California adopts tough antibiotic rules for farm animals

The measure is to curb antibiotic resistance in humans

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Reuters) — California governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that sets the strictest government standards in the United States for the use of antibiotics in livestock production.


The move from California, known for its leadership on public health and environmental issues, comes amid growing concern that the overuse of such drugs is contributing to rising numbers of life-threatening human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two million people are infected with drug resistant bacteria each year in the United States and that 23,000 die as a direct result.


“This puts California at the forefront of U.S. efforts to address the overuse of antibiotics in meat production,” said Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Seventy percent of antibiotics important for human medicine are sold in the U.S. for use in meat and dairy production, public health experts say.


Veterinary use of antibiotics is legal, but consumer advocates, public health experts and investors have become more critical of the practice of routinely feeding antibiotics to chickens, cattle and pigs as the number of human infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria increases.


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Some types of antibiotics can be bought in the U.S. without a prescription for animal care. Uses include disease treatment, prevention of illness in healthy animals and growth promotion.


The bill, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, will restrict the regular use of antibiotics for disease prevention and bans antibiotic use to fatten up animals. It also aims to stop over-the-counter sale of antibiotics for livestock use. Under the rules, antibiotics would have to be ordered by a licensed veterinarian.


Additionally, California’s Department of Food and Agriculture will be required to monitor antibiotic sales and use. 


The department will gain authority to collect information on antibiotic use in livestock production and develop best practices.


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