SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - In an effort to curb the widespread use of antibiotics in the cattle industry, California has adopted the strictest standards in the country for the use of drugs on healthy livestock.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation over the weekend, calling the overuse of antibiotics an "urgent public health problem." Under Senate Bill 27, antimicrobial drugs can only be given to livestock with an order from a licensed veterinarian beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
"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 advances in medicine," Brown wrote in a signing letter.
The bill introduced by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, seeks to eliminate the popular industry practice of giving healthy animals antibiotics in order to generate muscle and fatten them up. Pigs, chickens and cows are also given the drugs to prevent the spread of disease in large and often overcrowded commercial farms.
SB 27 makes California the first state to restrict the use of antibiotics on farm animals and tasks regulators with developing antimicrobial guidelines and best management practices for farmers. According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, at least 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold and given to livestock and poultry.
In recent years, regulators and health officials have warned about the dangerous trend of doctors overprescribing antibiotics to their patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blames the increase in antibiotic use for creating antibiotic-resistant microorganisms known as "nightmare bacteria" around the world.
The CDC study found at least 23,000 people die each year from "nightmare bacteria" and that up to 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed for people are unnecessary.
Currently, farmers are able to obtain antibiotics over the counter and administer the drugs without regulation.
Several large fast food chains and restaurant groups including McDonald's and Chipotle have recently announced they will no longer use meat products from animals that have been given antibiotics.
Last year, Brown vetoed a similar bill also proposed by Hill, saying "more needs to be done to understand and reduce our reliance on antibiotics."
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