Ban on non-therapeutic antiobiotic use fails

A bill that would have gradually phased out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics in food animals died in the California Senate last week. Its author, Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) was disappointed, but not terribly surprised.

Florez

California Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter)

“The reason the bill didn’t get passed in the Senate is that Big Ag can still flex its muscles,” said Florez in an interview Tuesday. Florez is also a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2010.

Senate Bill 416, had it passed, would have begun phasing out the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics (NTAs) in animals raised for food. Beginning with an outright ban in public schools on meat from animals treated with NTAs in 2012, the bill would have ended the use of the NTAs in food animals throughout the state by 2015. The bill that was finally put before the Senate for vote, however, was notably different than the version Florez introduced. By the time it hit the Senate floor for its third and final reading, it said “This bill allows a school district to make every effort to purchase poultry and meat products that have not been treated with non-therapeutic antibiotics” with no mention of the 2015 ban.

Support and opposition

Support for, and opposition to, the bill fell along the usual lines. Organizations such as Food & Water Watch, Consumers Union, Center for Food Safety, and Union of Concerned Scientists supported the proposed legislation, while agricultural and veterinary groups such as California Pork Producers Council, California Farm Bureau Federation, and California Veterinary Medical Association opposed the bill. Two labor organizations, California Teamsters Public Affairs Council and United Food & Commercial Workers Western States Council also opposed SB 416.

In an April letter to Florez, California Veterinary Medical Association lobbyist Michael Dillon stated his organization’s opposition to the bill, comparing it to earlier similar legislation that had been defeated in the past.

“Not unlike SB 416, those measures made declarations that the food animal industry and veterinarians were somehow responsible for antibiotic resistance in humans,” Dillon wrote, “yet there was little effort to examine if there is a nexus with the over-prescription of antibiotics for humans, by physicians.”

Food & Water Watch cited European efforts to end the use of NTAs. Citing a ban on NTAs by Sweden in 1985, the organization said that “Over the next decade, the total amount antibiotics given to animals for any purpose dropped by 50 percent.” Improved hygiene in barns, reduced animal stress, and new animal husbandry practices helped diminish farm animals’ vulnerability to disease, they added.

Although the bill went down 20-15 in the Senate vote, it was approved for reconsideration, and may be introduced in the next session.

Given the size of the livestock industry in California, said Florez, “we’re going to have to be in the forefront.”

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