California bans OTC antibiotics in food animals

Also requires periodic training for veterinarians on ‘judicious use’ policy

October 12, 2015 (published)
By Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM

Bottles of penicillin and tetracycline on feed store shelves soon will be a thing of the past in California under legislation signed Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown. Two new laws place responsibility for controlling antibiotic use in livestock on the shoulders of veterinarians in the state.

The California law goes further than national efforts at restricting antibiotics in food animals by not only prohibiting the use of antibiotics to promote livestock growth but also by removing medically important antibiotics from all over-the-counter (OTC) use. (The state defers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to define “medically important antimicrobial drug,” pointing to the drugs listed in FDA Guidance for Industry No. 152 Appendix A.)

Under the state legislation titled Livestock: use of antimicrobial drugs, beginning Jan. 1, 2018, antibiotics may not be given to livestock in California without a veterinary prescription or veterinary feed directive (VFD).

Antibiotics may be used only under veterinary guidance to control or treat existing disease or to prevent disease when the veterinarian has determined that the animal is at an increased risk of developing infection.

The law also increases requirements on the California Department of Food and Agriculture for monitoring antibiotic sales and use within the state.

The California Veterinary Medical Association supports the changes. In a position statement on the legislation, the organization referred to it as “an industry ‘game changer.’ ”

The statement lauds the requirement of a veterinary-client-patient-relationship (VCPR) in order for livestock producers to obtain a prescription or VFD: “The requirement of a VCPR will ensure that livestock producers are working with veterinarians to determine the best course of treatment for the animals in their care.”

The statement concludes: “We believe it is balanced, forward-thinking legislation that sets the tone for the rest of the nation.”

A companion bill also signed by the governor, Antimicrobial stewardship: education and policies, adds provisions to existing continuing-education requirements for veterinarians. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, all veterinarians licensed in California must take at least a one-hour course every four years on judicious antimicrobial use policies.

Currently, California veterinarians must complete 36 hours of continuing education per two-year licensing period. This law establishes the first requirement for specific coursework.

The CVMA position states, “This will ensure that all veterinarians — not just those who work with livestock — are current on this dynamic area of medicine.”

The onus for controlling antimicrobial use does not fall solely on veterinarians. The antimicrobial stewardship bill also requires skilled nursing facilities to develop antimicrobial stewardship policies effective Jan. 1, 2017.

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