Kudos to California Governor Jerry Brown who recently approved legislation that sets the most stringent standards in the U.S. for antibiotic use in livestock. Senate Bill 27, which Brown signed on October 10, 2015, mandates a veterinarian’s prescription to administer antibiotics in livestock, and bans the widespread use of “prophylactic” antibiotics to prevent disease—a practice that is commonplace in large commercial feedlot operations nationwide.
The Bill, which goes into effect on January 1, 2018, addresses growing concerns that the overuse of therapeutic antibiotics strongly correlates with the steep rise in drug-resistant strains of bacteria (aka “superbugs) responsible for life-threatening infections in humans. Currently, public health experts estimate about 70% of antibiotics prescribed for humans are also used in meat & dairy production in this country.
Sponsored by State Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), the new law also bans the use of growth promotants to fatten meat animals, and requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to track information on medically important antimicrobial drug sales and usage, antimicrobial resistant bacteria, and livestock management practice data.
Governor Brown stated, “SB 27 addresses an urgent public health problem. The science is clear that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock has contributed to the spread of antibiotic resistance and the undermining of decades of life-saving advances in medicine.”
Not surprisingly, we are finally beginning to connect the dots. The routine use of antibiotics on densely populated factory farms has become a necessary evil to counteract the stressful, over-crowded conditions in which these animals live. The practice is widely accepted as standard operating procedure for big businesses that must weigh the potential profits lost when one sick animal infects countless others in its proximity.
The resulting cost? Researchers have found evidence of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria present in the air, groundwater, and soil collected around these farms which may also contaminate the meat, eggs, and dairy products they produce.
Fast forward to our dinner tables. It stands to reason that these antibiotic residues will make their way down the food chain to the last in line: us. The correlation between the rise in superbug bacteria and the overuse of these drugs in animals seems obvious, yet the wheels of change grind painfully slow.
It is time to shine a bright light on the flawed, unsustainable model of factory farming in this country. In fact, calling these industrial-scale operations “farms” does a disservice to those who take their role as stewards of the land seriously, and raise animals humanely. We should strive to do better by the environment, the animals, and ourselves. I applaud Governor Brown’s action in signing SB 27 as a first step in the right direction.