Maryland Legislature Passes New Bill to Keep Antibiotics Effective

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG


Annapolis, Md – Public health advocates are applauding the State Senate and House of Delegates for passing bills (SB471/HB652) to ensure that Maryland is restricting antibiotic use on farm animals that are not sick and collecting important data regarding antibiotic use on farms.

The bills were introduced by Senators Paul Pinsky and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Delegate Sara Love to strengthen and codify regulations for the 2017 Keep Antibiotics Effective Act, which aims to help curb the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria by eliminating routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry that aren’t sick.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s (MDA) enacted regulations for the law in January, 2019, despite concerns from legislators, public health professionals, and advocates that the regulations failed to address the routine use of antibiotics on large farms and undermined the intent of the law.

“Antibiotics are our last defense against life threatening infections,” said Dr. Pat McLaine, a registered nurse and member of the Maryland Nurses Association. “We must protect our precious antibiotics for times when they are needed most: sickness and surgery.”

Public health, labor, business, and environmental organization are applauding passage of the bill including: the Maryland Public Health Association, Maryland Sierra Club, Maryland Nurses Association, SEIU 1199 United Health Care Workers, Elevation Burger, the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists, Fair Farms, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, Maryland Conservation Council, Maryland Votes for Animals, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Maryland PIRG, and Clean Water Action. 

The bill makes the following expansion of the law to address definitions in the regulations enacted by MDA and to help ensure proper implementation:

Adds new definitions and clarifies definitions for “Administered in a regular pattern,” “Control of the spread of disease or infection,” “Elevated risk,” “Prophylaxis,” and “Treat a disease or infection.”

Adds a technical fix to exempt dairy farms with herd size of fewer than 300, to be in line with the small farm exemptions for poultry, pork and beef.

Adds a a requirement for veterinarians to report the use of medically important antibiotics on a yearly basis to ensure compliance with the law and track progress.

Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr explained, “Without antibiotics, cancer treatments and routine surgeries would become too dangerous to perform because of risk of infection. Protecting antibiotics is something everyone can get behind and we hope Governor Larry Hogan will sign this critical bill.”

“To keep our miracle drugs working when people and animals need them, we have to stop squandering them on livestock that are not sick,” said Mae Wu, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This bill will help make Maryland a leader in the fight against the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections.”

Before antibiotics, infections were the leading cause of death in America. But as these drugs increasingly become less effective, drug resistant infections are now estimated to be the third-leading cause of death in this country – killing up to 162,000 people and sickening at least 2 million people every year. The annual estimated cost in the United States of such infections exceeds $55 billion per year.

Ending the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture has been identified by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other leading health groups as a key strategy to fight the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. 

In the United States, approximately two thirds of antibiotics are sold for use on livestock and poultry. Much of it is used not to treat sick animals but rather to compensate for a poor diet and cramped, unhygienic living conditions. This routine use of antibiotics accelerates the development of drug-resistant bacteria which can travel off of farms and into our communities through human-to-animal contact, contaminated food, insects, and through environmental factors like water run-off, dirt and airborne dust. 


The Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working is  is made up of healthcare, public health, environmental, consumer, and animal welfare organizations, individuals, and companies working together to stop the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.