Livestock Antibiotics Bill is a Win for Public Health

Late last Friday the California Legislature passed SB 27, authored by Jerry Hill, to set new restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock production.

Jason Pfeifle

SB 27 Will Help Curb Antibiotic Overuse on Livestock

Late last Friday the California Legislature passed SB 27, authored by Jerry Hill, to set new restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock production. The bill is a response to concerns about the very real threats to human health from the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections. CALPIRG launched our campaign to stop the overuse of antibiotics in livestock back in early 2014 and we applaud the passage of this bill.

Antibiotic-resistant infections kill 23,000 people in this country alone and sicken millions.1 Experts warn that if we don’t act now to stem the growth and spread of these infections, they could become more deadly than cancer by 2050.2 To stop the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, we need to end the overuse of antibiotics, and 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use on livestock.

For years the livestock industry has given antibiotics to animals that aren’t sick, often daily in their food and water, to promote faster growth and as a first line of defense against diseases that could be contracted as a result of crowded living conditions. The Centers for Disease Control found in their 2013 report that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.”3,4

SB 27 is the most meaningful step taken by any state to end antibiotic overuse on factory farms. It is also significantly stronger than the unambitious federal FDA program. Once signed into law, California will be the first state to make clear that existing federal guidelines are not an adequate response to the very real threat of losing effective antibiotics.

Similar to the federal guidelines, SB 27 puts antibiotic use under the oversight of veterinarians, and calls for stewardship guidelines. The bill also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a program to monitor the use of antibiotics on livestock.

Most importantly, however, SB 27 prohibits the regular use of antibiotics on healthy animals, and the only exceptions are legitimate therapeutic uses. The bill also limits the use of antibiotics for prophylaxis only to situations where there’s an elevated risk.

The language of SB 27 is a marked improvement to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2013 guidance to purportedly end the use of antibiotics to promote faster growth in animals. Because the FDA declined to regulate routine uses for disease prevention (and most antibiotics are used for both purposes at similar dosage levels), most industry experts agree that the FDA guidance will not lead to significant decreases in antibiotic overuse.5

SB 27 significantly advances federal policy. We applaud Governor Brown for vetoing a weaker bill last year, and pushing for this strong language to be in SB 27 this year in order to receive his signature.

CALPIRG launched our campaign for a meaningful bill in the state legislature in early 2014. Our citizen outreach staff spoke with 82,000 Californians about the need for strong state action on this issue, collected more than 37,000 petitions to the legislature from members of the public across the state, and left educational materials about the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms with nearly 120,000 homes in California. Additionally, more than 2,000 individuals signed onto a health care provider letter in support of reform, and we have held dozens of lobby meetings in Sacramento and in districts throughout the state, often joined by doctors, supportive small farmers, and other constituents from the districts.

SB 27 is a win for public health. Senator Jerry Hill made this issue a priority of his in the legislature, Governor Brown pushed for the strong final language of this bill, and the legislature wisely pushed beyond the federal guidelines. Many thanks to them and all of the allies and activists who played a role in this victory. We hope this bill gets signed into law quickly and we look forward to working with the governor’s administration on the implementation of these important public health protections.

We beat Big Ag here in California and, with similar effort, we can in your state too. Chip in to help us win our next victory for public health.




4 For more information on the connection between antibiotic resistance and the overuse on livestock see our white paper: “Ending the Abuse of Antibiotics in Livestock Production: The Case for Reform.”

5 For more information, read CALPIRG Education Fund’s report “Weak Medicine: Why the FDA’s Guidelines Are Inadequate to Curb Antibiotic Resistance and Protect Public Health.”


Jason Pfeifle