Good news hails from Sacramento in the form of two bills successfully sponsored by Sen. Jerry Hill. Both are important first steps in reining in the overuse of antibiotics in an effort to control the growing health crisis that results from that excess; the bills now are headed for the governor's desk after approval with no opposition in both the Senate and the Assembly.
SB 835 takes aim at the widespread practice of using antibiotics in farm animals solely for the purpose of fattening them for market. It would enshrine in state law the Federal Drug Administration's recently issued voluntary guidelines aimed at phasing out the drug's use as growth promoters. If signed, the bill would restrict the use of antibiotics for livestock to medical purposes. They would be administered only with a prescription, and with oversight by a licensed veterinarian.
The law is designed to further the urgent work of getting antibiotics out of the food chain a phenomenon that has greatly contributed to antibiotics resistance in humans.
SB 1311 would require acute care hospitals in the state to create what's known as antimicrobial stewardship programs to oversee the use of antibiotics in humans, and curtail their overuse. In a 2013 report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called antibiotics resistance in humans one of the country's most serious health threats. Many of us know someone a family member, or a friend who is battling an infection that once-reliable antibiotics simply can't knock out. It is a painful, costly, and sometimes fatal ordeal.
This bill is supported by the California Hospital Association, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, and other medical groups and agencies.
Sen. Hill, D-San Mateo, said he began working on the bills in earnest once he reviewed the CDC's 2013 document, "Antibiotics Resistance Threats in the United States," which reports that more than 2 million Americans develop infections that are resistant to antibiotics annually, including 23,000 who die. There is no scientific reason to use antibiotics as growth stimulants in animals, and the overuse of these drugs in both livestock and humans has led to fears among public health officials that if the problem isn't addressed, there eventually won't be any effective antibiotics to treat "superbugs," he said in a recent phone interview. He is hopeful that the bills will be signed into law, he said, and that they "will save lives and a lot of heartache for the people of California."
The bill restricting antibiotics use in livestock isn't without opponents, and they include environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, that don't think it goes far enough. But Sen. Hill said the opposition is an example of the perfect being the enemy of the good, and he noted that the measures that some of the opponents push for have "no chance of survival" in the Legislature.
The overuse of antibiotics in both farm animals and in humans has created a nationwide public health crisis, and the FDA's "action" to issue voluntary guidelines to phase out their use in animals for anything other than medical reasons was in fact a regrettable lack of action. Sen. Hill's legislation to curb the use of these drugs is real action, and now the governor must act to finalize it.