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Prevention Institute

Strategic Alliance E-Alert: August 13, 2015

Overuse of Antibiotics in Animals is a Major Source of Drug-Resistant Infections

A bill that would lock in risky antibiotic practices in livestock production is moving through the California legislature-- and could stampede our health if allowed to proceed.

The rise of antibiotic-resistant infections is an unfolding public health crisis, and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production is a major driver of antibiotic resistance.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug-resistant bacteria sickens two million people and kills nearly 23,000 people every year in the U.S. These infections can result in longer illnesses, and more hospitalizations and deaths when treatments fail. Plus, the rise of antibiotic resistance threatens life-saving medical procedures that rely on effective antibiotics.

Acting now to crack down on the overuse of antibiotics in raising livestock will protect public health. Approximately 70% of medically-important antibiotics sold in the U.S. today are used to prop up livestock production. Packing animals into warehouses and lacing their diets with regular doses of antibiotics to prevent the spread of disease and promote growth are routine business practices in the state of California.  This needs to change.

Senate Bill 27 talks tough by prohibiting the use of antibiotics to promote growth and promising stricter monitoring of antibiotic use. But the bill contains a loophole that turns its stated aims inside-out. In fact, SB 27 would allow feeding animals a steady diet of antibiotics under the guise of disease prevention. The bill also fails to appropriately monitor the use of antibiotics in raising livestock, which leaves policymakers and the public in the dark. We can’t afford to advance Big Pharma’s bottom line at the price of our health.

As Dick Jackson, a professor in the Environmental Health Sciences department at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health, notes: “Many of us have long been concerned about low-dose herd and flock feeding of antibiotics to animals that promotes the emergence of resistant organisms.  An effort to reduce this practice was to require that these drugs be used only as needed to treat ill and at-risk animals.  Instead blanket treatment continues, now with a stroke of a DVM pen.”

Rather than protecting the public’s health, SB 27 will enshrine dangerous practices that are driving antibiotic resistance. This resistance spreads beyond farming operations through contaminated food, air, soil, and water. People who work with livestock and communities located near industrial livestock facilities face increased risk of being exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and developing antibiotic-resistant infections.

SB 27 has already passed the California Senate. The next stop is Assembly Appropriations, with a hearing scheduled for August 19. Unless SB 27 is revised to prohibit the use of antibiotics in animals that aren't sick, the bill should move no further.

Our esteemed partner, the National Resources Defense Council, says the most important thing we can do to fight this bill is to contact our representatives and ask them to vote NO on Senate Bill 27 if it reaches the Assembly floor. 

Learn More About SB 27

Read up on why SB 27 needs to be stopped or overhauled on the Natural Resources Defense Council’s blog. For more background on antibiotic resistance and livestock production, check out this CDC factsheet, Antibiotic Resistance from Farm to Table

Setting the Record Straight

Our powerful call to action sets out a definition of healthful food that "recognizes that healthful food comes from a food system where food is produced, processed, transported, and marketed in ways that are environmentally sound, sustainable and just." 

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