SACRAMENTO – State Senator Jerry Hill announced today he will introduce legislation strengthening recently released federal guidelines to phase out the non-medical use of antibiotics in farm animals in California in order to combat growing resistance to these vital drugs. The legislation will effectively make it illegal for farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics to make animals grow bigger.
More than two million Americans contract antibiotic-resistant infections each year -- resulting in 23,000 deaths. The Food and Drug Administration last week announced that it will ask pharmaceutical companies, livestock and poultry producers, to stop using antibiotics to promote faster growth in animals and to limit their use to medical care only. The FDA’s guidance document, however, is not binding. The document contains only voluntary recommendations asking that pharmaceutical, livestock and poultry producers comply.
“My legislation will make it clear that the FDA guidelines are the law in California,” Hill said. The San Mateo Democrat will introduce his bill when the Legislature re-convenes on Jan. 6.
Medically important antibiotics used in food-producing animals are the same ones used in humans. Farms consume at least 70 percent of the nation’s antibiotic supply -- and repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to drugs such as penicillin and tetracycline that are used to treat common bacterial infections in humans. At least 685 different drugs are approved by the FDA for use in animals.
This year, an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella linked to three chicken plants in California sickened nearly 400 people; 40 percent of those infected were hospitalized. Each year antibiotic-resistant infections result in at least $20 billion in direct health care costs and at least $35 billion in lost productivity.
"Antibiotic use in food producing animals for non-medical reasons is a serious public health issue,” Hill said. “My legislation is intended to ensure that medically important antibiotics remain effective in treating bacterial infections in animals and humans.”
Hill’s legislation will ensure that California companies comply with the FDA voluntary guidelines. Drug manufacturers will be required to change their labels preventing farmers from buying antibiotics over the counter and using them for non-medical purposes. Since the 1950s producers have been feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals throughout their lives to increase their size and weight. Pharmaceutical and livestock producers would be subject to penalties if they do not comply.
It will also require food producers to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian to use the drugs to prevent disease in their animals. With veterinary oversight, animal producers will still be able to use medically important antibiotics for legitimate disease treatment purposes.
In its Consumer Update, the Food and Drug Administration stated, “Because all uses of antimicrobial drugs, in both humans and animals, contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance, it is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary.” In 1977, the FDA first reported that the non-therapeutic use of penicillin and tetracycline in livestock could lead to new super-bugs resistant to antibiotics.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, "Antibiotics are also commonly used in food animals to prevent, control, and treat disease, and to promote the growth of food-producing animals. The use of antibiotics for promoting growth is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out."
Earlier this year Johns Hopkins University released a study which found that, “Administering nontherapeutic antimicrobials to food animals is particularly problematic since chronic administration of low doses of antimicrobials contributes to the evolution and proliferation of antimicrobial-resistant strains of bacteria. Accordingly, the widespread use of nontherapeutic antimicrobials in animals and the selection of genes conveying resistance can vastly diminish the effectiveness of antimicrobials to treat animal and human disease.”
The European Union banned the use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes in 2005.
Office of Senator Jerry Hill