N.Y. bill seeks ban on giving antibiotics to healthy livestock

Veterinary profession expected to weigh in

December 30, 2010 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

A bill proposed in New York seeks to ban the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. If passed, it would make using antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease in livestock a criminal act.

So far, organized veterinary medicine has not staked a public position on the measure. A representative with the New York State Veterinary Medical Society stated that the association is holding off on public comment for the time being.

SB 80 has been pre-filed in New York and intends to amend the state's agriculture and markets law to make it a class A misdemeanor to administer antibiotics to food-producing animals in non-therapeutic circumstances.

That means giving low doses of antibiotics to cattle, pigs and poultry that are not clinically sick would be punishable by fines and jail time. The issue is controversial among veterinarians. How the profession's leadership will respond to the bill is unclear.

As of today, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is mum on the topic apart from a call for public comment on its website AVMA@Work. So far, no one has commented. AVMA staff did not immediately respond to queries from the VIN News Service. If history is a guide, a battle could be brewing.

The AVMA — alongside the meat and poultry industry as well as drug makers — has repeatedly fought proposed crackdowns on the practice of giving antibiotics in non-therapeutic circumstances, stating that science has not proven a connection between feeding such drugs to food animals and the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

Curtailing such uses of antibiotics, the association has argued, would compromise animal health and food safety while delivering little or no benefit in the fight against drug-resistant infections in humans. AVMA literature on the topic states: "A veterinarian's ability to prescribe antibiotics to food animals is an essential part of making sure animals that eventually become food will be safe to eat. Veterinarians use antibiotics to fight disease before an outbreak occurs and bacteria spreads through the entire population. It’s a practice that has been used for years to keep animals, and our food, healthy."

Meanwhile, proponents of ending the longstanding practice of feeding antibiotics to otherwise healthy animals are getting louder in their protests. Many in the public health community as well as faction of the veterinary profession believe that regularly feeding animals such drugs is producing negative effects in humans who eat them. 

It's unclear whether curtailing drug resistance is at the core SB 80. The measure comes from Daniel L. Squadron, a senator from New York's 25th district, which includes Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront and a bevy of Manhattan neighborhoods. The lawmaker could not be reached today in his district offices.

News of the legislation comes two weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its first-ever government tally of antimicrobial drugs sold domestically for use in food animals. The total: 28.7-million pounds sold in 2009.

The New York State Legislative Session convenes on Jan. 5.

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