California Passes Strict New Law to Fight Superbugs

The new law will end the use of antibiotics as a way of plumping up farm animals.

Oct 11 2015, 4:16pm

Photo by bertknot/Flickr

California has passed the strictest farm antibiotics law in the country, in an effort to curb the risk of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

The new law was approved by Governor Jerry Brown Saturday. Brown had originally pushed for the changes this summer, to make it illegal to use medically-important antibiotics on farm animals in California unless the animal is already sick, is at serious risk of an infection, or needs antibiotics ahead of a surgery or medical procedure. The law won't come into effect until January 2018, but it marks the most comprehensive changes to antibiotics regulation in the country.

"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 advancements in medicine," Brown said in a signing message.

Currently, antibiotics are used in raising livestock both to prevent disease and as growth promoters (to help the animals get nice and fat). But under the new California law, antibiotics won't be used in either of these ways. Instead they'll be used only on sick animals or when an animal is likely to get sick (like if the rest of the herd or flock has come down with a bug).

The overuse of antibiotics, both in animals and humans, has led to an increased risk of antibiotic resistant superbugs. The risk has grown so severe that the World Health Organization has warned we're heading towards a "post-antibiotic era" if we don't start to cut down on our overuse of the drugs. The Food and Drug Administration has set out voluntary guidelines to end the use of medically-important antibiotics as growth promoters nation-wide, but California's new law goes further to prohibit growth promoters and drastically cut down on antibiotics for disease prevention.

"Recently, American poultry producers have shown leadership by voluntarily committing to better husbandry practices and eliminating subtherapeutic use of antibiotics," Brown said, referring to the recent trend of poultry producers opting to phase out medically-important antibiotics. "This is an example that the rest of the livestock industry should follow."