SACRAMENTO, Calif., Sept. 30, 2015 - A new law requiring California livestock producers to get a prescription to use antibiotics on farm animals is headed to the governor’s desk after the legislature approved a bill that goes beyond the Obama administration’s Veterinary Feed Directive.
The bill – SB-27 – would require a prescription from a veterinarian for use of antibiotics in livestock and outlaw the use of antibiotics being used to promote growth. In June, the FDA published the Veterinary Feed Directive, which goes into effect Thursday, requiring a veterinary prescription for use of antibiotics deemed medically important for humans, but only when those drugs are “intended for use in or on animal feed.” The California bill would also apply to injectable antibiotics, essentially requiring a veterinary prescription for any medically important antibiotic use on livestock.
A similar bill was introduced last year, but was vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown because he didn’t think the measure – which would have codified in law some federal regulations that were in the works at the time – went far enough. After that veto and consultation with the governor’s staff and stakeholder groups, SB-27 was introduced and passed by the legislature, giving Brown until Oct. 11 to sign the bill.
In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Noelle Cremers, director of natural resources and commodities with the California Farm Bureau Federation, said CFBF is staying neutral on the bill with the knowledge that things could be worse.
“We are not excited about having a prescription requirement for all antibiotics, but on the whole, we think the bill generally balances the needs of livestock producers with the issue of resistance,” Cremers said, addressing the issue at the heart of the debate, the potential for antibiotic resistance due to overuse of antibiotics in food animals and human medicine.
The bill requires veterinarians prescribing the antibiotics have an established relationship with the livestock operation seeking to use the drugs. To be in compliance with that aspect of the law, veterinarians must “have seen the animals within the year,” Cremers said, which establishes the required relationship.
The bill has support from a number of consumer and environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council. In a blog on the organization’s website, Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with NRDC’s Health and Environment Program, called SB-27 “an important advance beyond the status quo and inadequate federal policy on antibiotic use in meat production.”
Agricultural groups like CFBF, California Cattlemen’s Association and the California Pork Producers Association are neutral on SB-27. Even so, Cremers said she is hopeful Brown will sign the bill.
“Our hope is that the governor does sign the bill. If he vetoes it and sends us back to the drawing board,” she said, it’s not clear what the end result will be. “It’s our expectation, given his staff’s participation in the negotiations, that he would sign the bill. That being said, this is a very independent governor, and one never knows until he actually puts pen to paper.”
If signed by Brown, the bill – which also calls for a monitoring system to be developed by California’s Department of Food and Agriculture – would go into effect at the beginning of 2016, but the prescription requirement has a two-year delayed implementation, giving producers until the beginning of 2018 to fall into compliance.
While California may be known for its fresh produce, dairy is actually the top ag sector in the state. In 2013, California agricultural operations had about $46.4 billion in output, with milk accounting for $7.6 billion of that figure, the top commodity by about $1.8 billion. Cattle and calves were the only other livestock product in the top 10 in commodity value, in fourth place at $3.05 billion.
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