In the news

Contra Costa Times
By
Jason Pfeifle

It's hard to imagine a world in which antibiotics don't work, a world in which minor injuries and common infections could once again become deadly. Yet, that's the exact world we are headed for, if we do nothing to address the threat of antibiotic resistance.

Doctors rely on antibiotics to kill the bacteria that cause everything from simple ear infections to potentially life-threatening illnesses like pneumonia and post-surgery infections. But some of these bacteria are developing a resistance to antibiotics, mutating into super bugs -- which could give our families illnesses that can't be cured by antibiotics.

This year, California lawmakers have expressed deep concern over antibiotic resistance and its impact on public health, but they have yet to put forward the kind of comprehensive legislation needed to adequately address one of the root causes of the problem -- the overuse of antibiotics on large-scale farms.

In fact, a bill is making its way through the California Legislature that could do more harm than good.

Senate Bill 27, authored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, was intended to regulate the overuse of antibiotics on livestock. To achieve that objective, the bill prohibits the use of antibiotics to speed up animal growth, and it places the uses of antibiotics under the supervision of veterinarians.

On the face of it, this bill looks like a step in the right direction.

However, the problem with SB 27 is that it has a loophole that allows for the daily, routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick. By broadly endorsing prevention uses of antibiotics, the bill would continue to allow livestock producers to put low doses of antibiotics into the daily feed of their animals to prevent diseases caused by crowded and unsanitary living conditions.

In doing so, SB 27 legally authorizes the routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick.

This is a significant flaw in the legislation because antibiotic overuse on livestock is one of the leading causes of the spread of drug-resistant bacteria. Currently, up to 70 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for use on food animals.

When large-scale farms use antibiotics on such a massive scale, it accelerates the development of drug-resistant bacteria, which then find their way to humans through numerous pathways, including contaminated food, airborne dust blowing off farms, and water and soil polluted with contaminated feces.

We're already witnessing the harmful impact that the spread of drug-resistant bacteria is having on human health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 2 million Americans get seriously ill each year from drug-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die.

Antibiotic resistance also puts complicated medical procedures such as heart surgery, organ transplants and chemotherapy in jeopardy because they rely on effective antibiotics to be undertaken beforehand.

With so much at stake, California lawmakers cannot afford to pass the wrong policy. Yet, that is exactly what they appear to be doing by moving SB 27 forward. SB 27 has already passed the Senate, and it is now making its way through the Assembly.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that failed to adequately address the overuse of antibiotics on livestock.

If SB 27 continues to make it through the Legislature in its current form, Californians will need Gov. Brown to exercise that same leadership once again.

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