Call on the California Legislature to Fix or Stop Weak Antibiotics Bill That Locks in Risky Antibiotics Use Practices

SB 27 is making its way through the California legislature but we need your help to ensure it does not pass this legislative session. SB 27 would lock in bad antibiotics use practices, codifying repeated and regular use of antibiotics on livestock animals that are not sick, despite mounting evidence that overuse of antibiotics is creating a crisis of drug-resistant infections. While the bill has some different language from last year's effort (SB 835 - which NRDC opposed and Governor Brown vetoed), when you take a close look, it is apparent that SB 27 does not stop the unnecessary, routine use of medically important antibiotics (those important in human medicine) on animals that are not sick. It doesn't even require industry or their veterinarians to track and report their use of antibiotics, leaving policy makers and the public in the dark about how these life-saving drugs are being used in meat and poultry production.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified antibiotic resistance as one of the top health threats facing the nation. CDC estimates that at least 23,000 people die from antibiotic resistant infections and at least 2 million people are sickened by such infections each year. Any use of antibiotics, whether in human medicine or animal agriculture, can contribute to antibiotic resistance, but antibiotics given routinely at low doses to whole herds or flocks of animals are significantly more risky.

Animal use comprises 70% of the entirety of sales of medically important antibiotics in the United States. More problematically, most of these antibiotics are for use in feed and water, and given at low doses to large herds of flocks of animals, which creates greater risk of breeding antibiotic resistance whether the use is for "growth promotion" or "disease prevention." One problem with allowing use for "disease prevention" is that it will permit use as a back door way to administer antibiotics for growth. But use for "disease prevention," like use for "growth promotion," is also inherently risky from a resistance perspective--similarly involving the administration of low doses of antibiotics to entire herds of animals when there is no disease present and other interventions can obviate the need for the use. It's like adding antibiotics to your kids' cereal every morning before they go off to daycare instead of washing their hands.

As my colleague Jonathan Kaplan explained, last year's vetoed bill replicated a flawed FDA policy that we don't expect will have much impact on reducing livestock use of antibiotics. Neither FDA's policy nor the bill represented a meaningful response to the problem of rising antibiotic resistance and the widespread use of these drugs to raise food animals because it focused only on use for "growth promotion." In fact, the Governor vetoed the bill because he found it unnecessary given that industry had already pledged to comply with FDA's guidance and because he wanted a bill that "found new and effective ways to reduce unnecessary antibiotics used for livestock and poultry." This year's bill, SB 27, replicates these flaws, allowing the continued routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick.

Senator Hill (the author of this bill and last year's bill) has said in his public statements that he wants to end the routine use of antibiotics and allow antibiotic use only when animals are sick or to control a disease outbreak. However, SB 27 does not accomplish these goals, nor does it ensure effective tracking and reporting of antibiotics use in livestock operations.

The fact is that SB 27 does not yet answer the Governor's call for a stronger bill that would actually reduce the unnecessary antibiotics used for livestock and poultry.

Your voice is needed! You can help NRDC and a growing coalition of public health and consumer protection groups advocate for real limits and better information on livestock antibiotic use. Please contact your Assembly Member today and ask him or her to VOTE NO on SB 27 unless it actually curbs the routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick. Please also send a letter to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which is considering the bill, by clicking here.