Veterinary association endorses flawed policy allowing misuse of precious antibiotics to raise food animals

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The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) may be the only organization in California publicly advocating support for SB 27, flawed California legislation regarding use of livestock antibiotics. This bill would sanction the routine use of antibiotics even when the animals are not sick, a practice that is known to spread antibiotic resistant bacteria.

SB 27 does not have support from public health or medical groups fighting against the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance, but it is opposed by over 75 consumer, public health, medical, environmental and community groups, businesses, and farms, and numerous others.

Routine antibiotic use to raise food animals is unnecessary and contributes to rising rates of antibiotic resistance

In large livestock facilities, the regular, repeated use of antibiotics at low doses is a substitute for better animal care; the practice puts both animal and human health at risk because it undercuts the future effectiveness of antibiotics when they really are needed to treat infections. Just this week, Consumer Reports released a report showing that conventional ground beef is twice as likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria (superbugs) as sustainable beef.

Meanwhile, leading producers and restaurants (like Perdue Farms, Foster Farms, Chipotle and McDonalds) in the U.S. and abroad are innovating and moving away from regular and repeated use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick. They are instead relying on vaccination, better feed, better cleaning, better ventilation, a little more space per animal, and other non-antibiotic practices designed to prevent infections and to keep animals healthy.

If SB 27 were only about mandating veterinary oversight of antibiotics in livestock, NRDC would not oppose the bill. Veterinary oversight would still be a good thing if it weren't tied to a harmful provision in SB 27 that would set us back on health by locking into state law approval for repeated and regular use of antibiotics on animals that aren't sick. Furthermore, FDA has already moved to put in place veterinary oversight of antibiotics use in livestock, making a requirement for such oversight in California duplicative and unnecessary.

CVMA argues that eliminating one form of routine use will help, even though a loophole allows the same antibiotics to be used in the virtually the same ways as before

SB 27 bans antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency, but allows routine antibiotic use to continue under a different name, as we have previously pointed out. This is because SB 27 sanctions antibiotics use anytime there is a suspicion that disease might occur in the crowded and often unsanitary confines of modern industrial livestock farms or if a disease has been known to occur at the facility or any other facility any time in the past. As with use for growth promotion, the antibiotics are used in low doses in the feed and water of large numbers of animals when they are not sick.

That is why we've said all along that a ban on growth promotion alone does not hit the mark and why Governor Brown agreed with us and vetoed a similar bill last year (SB 835).

The provisions that authorize the regular and repeated use of antibiotics are independent of the provision requiring the involvement of veterinarians in the use of antibiotics. Yet, the CVMA has not supported NRDC's request to remove the harmful section of the bill. They are endorsing the bill as is.

Because of its flaws, a broad coalition of consumer, public health, medical, environmental and community groups and businesses oppose the bill.

Contrary to CVMA's claims, the bill does not reflect the input of consumer groups, which is why it has a very long list of opposition, including from Consumers Union, the policy arm of Consumer Reports, and CALPIRG . Over 75 groups and businesses and farms oppose the bill and many prominent doctors, medical professionals, and individuals do as well. In fact, the list of public support for the bill is limited to the CVMA. The California State PTA removed its support once they took another look at the bill. Industry groups like the California Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen's Association seem to be quietly lobbying for the bill's passage without going on the record. We assume that the meat industry likes the bill because it gives them a free pass to continue business as usual for the foreseeable future.

Because antibiotics are so critical to our health, we cannot settle for a fig leaf solution that would lock in the very practices that are driving some of the highest risks of spreading antibiotic resistance. Imagine going to the doctor for a simple infection and antibiotics do not work. It can be fatal. That is why we are working so hard to ensure that antibiotics remain effective for people and animals, and why we must oppose SB 27. Please join us by writing your legislators and urging them to oppose the SB 27.

(Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary, flickr)