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California to restrict antibiotics use in farm animals

California to restrict antibiotics use in farm animals
Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday signed a bill to restrict the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals and prohibit their use to promote the growth of livestock. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Citing an "urgent public health problem," Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday made California the first state in the nation to restrict the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals and prohibit their use to promote the growth of livestock.

Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced the bill because of concern that unnecessary use of antibiotics has been tied to the emerging of antibiotic-resistant infections, which sicken more than 2 million Americans each year and lead to some 23,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of life-saving advances in medicine," Brown said in a signing message.

He praised the American poultry industry for voluntarily committing to better practices with antibiotics. "This is an example that the rest of the livestock industry should follow," Brown wrote.

The action was welcomed by Elisa Odabashian, director of Consumers Union's West Coast office.

"The reckless use of antibiotics for meat production threatens public health by making these medications less effective for treating disease," she said.  "This bill should prevent these critical drugs from being wasted on healthy animals and help ensure they continue to work when and where they are needed most."

Currently, many antibiotics are available without a prescription from a veterinarian. The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, requires a prescription based on a veterinarian's judgment that the antibiotics are medically necessary.

The new state law is tougher than federal law in prohibiting a regular pattern of use of antibiotics as a preventative measure to farm animal herds. There must be an elevated risk to justify using it with animals that are not sick.

The bill is not supported by the California Cattlemen's Assn. because of concerns about how ranchers, particularly in rural areas, will have access to antibiotics. However, the group agreed to be neutral on the bill after spending two years negotiating changes, including the two-year delay, said Justin Oldfield, a vice president of the group.

"We recognize that there will definitely be some issues we will have to work on implementing," Oldfield said.

The measure, SB 27, is opposed by groups including Physicians for Social Responsibility - Los Angeles, the Southern California Public Health Assn., and the Urban Environmental Policy Institute.

Livestock producers use about 70% of the antibiotics sold in the nation.

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