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FOOD

To Our Health
Why the California Senate Should Pass S.B. 416
Fact Sheet • May 2009

I f you eat food, care about the environment or value your health, you should
lend your support to S.B. 416. This piece of legislation was offered by California
Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and addresses a major public health threat in
California’s food system and environment: the practice of feeding healthy animals
low doses of antibiotics to make them grow faster and to keep illness from spreading
between animals confined closely together.

This practice affects us all. It contributes to the presence Why is this necessary?
of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can reach humans Because nontherapeutic antibiotic use
through food and the environment. It also jeopardizes the is routine in the largest livestock opera-
effectiveness of the antibiotics used to treat humans when tions. Starting in the 1950s, livestock and poultry
we are sick. S.B. 416 deserves our support because it bans producers found that when animals were fed low doses
the practice in California, setting the stage for a national of antibiotics, they grew more quickly. Today, produc-
ban — and helping to build a healthier food system. ers use the drugs to promote growth and to keep illness
from spreading among animals packed closely together in
What does the bill do? barns, often in unhygienic conditions.1
Starting in 2015, livestock and poultry producers in the
state of California would be prohibited from feeding im- The volume of antibiotics fed to animals for these non-
portant human antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetra- therapeutic purposes dwarfs the amount used to treat
cycline, to healthy animals (this practice is called “non- sick animals.2 A full half of the antibiotics used are either
therapeutic antibiotic use”). The bill also requires state the same or very similar to those given to humans when
and local governments purchasing meat and poultry to they are sick3 — including critical human drugs like peni-
favor products produced without nontherapeutic antibi- cillin and tetracycline.
otics. And it encourages schools to report to the public if
they serve or are trying to obtain meat produced without When humans receive antibiotics, they must see a doctor
nontherapeutic antibiotics. and get a prescription. Patients are warned to take the
full drug regimen because doing otherwise could reduce
antibiotic effectiveness and breed bacterial resistance.
But livestock and poultry producers can purchase antibi-
otics, often pre-mixed in feed, from farm stores or over
the Internet without a prescription — and they are giving
these drugs to animals that are not sick. 4

Because the practice puts human health


at risk. The World Health Organization, the American
Medical Association, the Institute of Medicine and other
prestigious medical authorities have found that nonthera-
peutic antibiotic use in food animal production breeds
drug-resistant pathogens that can be transferred to
humans. They have all called for a ban on nontherapeutic
antibiotic use in the food system.

Industrial livestock operations — facilities that confine


hundreds or thousands of animals together in barns and
add antibiotics and other substances to feed to promote
growth — are an ideal breeding ground for drug-resistant
bacteria.5 When bacteria are exposed to low doses of
antibiotics, they become resistant to one or many of the
drugs and spread that resistance to other bacteria. These
bacteria — including E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella —
can reach humans when workers come in direct contact
with the animals, 6 or they can be spread through the
environment (in water or soil7 or on flies8). They can also
contaminate the food we eat.9 A recent study by Consum- reduce antibiotic use, improve animal health, and keep
er Reports looked at 525 chicken samples bought at su- producers in business. Food & Water Watch supports
permarkets across the country and found Campylobacter outreach to California’s livestock and poultry producers
and Salmonella bacteria on 83% of the chicken tested; to help them adapt and implement alternative practices.
over 65% of the bacterial samples were resistant to one or
more antibiotics.10 Because the bill will lower healthcare
costs. Because S.B. 416 will reduce the presence of
Because the bill will still allow producers resistant bacteria in the environment and on our food, it
to treat animals with antibiotics when- will result in significant healthcare savings for consumers.
ever they are sick. S.B. 416 will not take away Campylobacter, E. coli and Salmonella are three of the
the ability of producers to treat their animals when they leading causes of foodborne illness in the United States,13
are sick. It will instead phase out the practice of feeding and the increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of these
healthy animals low doses of important human antibiot- bacteria is a serious concern for human health. According
ics over their lifetimes. to the Centers for Disease Control, when humans become
sick with an antibiotic-resistant strain of foodborne ill-
Because we can reduce antibiotic use and ness, the infection is typically more severe and longer in
preserve animal health. Critics of S.B. 416 argue duration than if the strain were not resistant. Patients also
that if they cannot feed healthy animals antibiotics, more experience higher rates of bloodstream infections and
animals will become sick, requiring greater use of antibi- increased mortality.14 A 2005 study finds that hospital
otics for therapeutic purposes. This assertion mischarac- costs are between $6,000 and $10,000 higher when the
terizes what the bill does and conflicts with evidence from patient is infected with a resistant bacterium compared to
other countries. an infection that responds to antibiotics.15

First, S.B. 416 does not ban all nontherapeutic antibiotics Because consumers across the country
used in animal agriculture. It only bans those drugs that are asking for this. Although critics contend that
are also used to treat humans. Antibiotics approved only S.B. 416 would burden livestock and poultry producers,
for animal use will still be allowed under the bill. food companies across the country are already success-
fully transitioning away from the practice because of con-
Second, producers can take steps to reduce the chances sumer pressure — so many producers have already made
that animals will become sick after the ban is in place. the switch. McDonald’s implemented a policy in 2003
Sweden banned the use of nontherapeutic antibiotics for requiring all direct poultry suppliers to eliminate their
animal growth promotion in 1985. Over the next decade, use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promo-
the total amount of antibiotics given to animals for any tion. It also created a purchasing policy that favors beef
purpose dropped by 50 percent. The steep reduction was and pork from operations that comply with this policy.16
due in part to the fact that the Swedish livestock industry Bon Appetit Management Company, based in Palo Alto,
developed new animal husbandry practices that improved adopted a similar purchasing policy.17 Other companies
hygiene in the barns and reduced animal stress, both with policies banning the use of some medically-impor-
factors that can make animals vulnerable to disease.11 The tant nontherapeutic antibiotics for some or all of their
share of animals receiving antibiotics to treat disease fell meat and poultry include Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera
steadily after these practices were implemented.12 The Bread, Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, KFC, Subway, TGI
Swedish example shows that it is possible to significantly Friday’s, Wendy’s and others. 18
Because S.B. 416 is the right thing to do.
There is much to be done to reduce the chances that
consumers will be sickened by foodborne pathogens. But
we must also ensure that if they do get sick, we have all
the tools available to treat them. Nontherapeutic antibi-
otic use is immobilizing our first line of defense against
foodborne illness by rendering human-use antibiotics
ineffective.

A growing number of organizations have voiced support


for S.B. 416, including Food & Water Watch, Consum-
ers Union, Center for Food Safety, Breast Cancer Action,
Health Care Without Harm, the Union of Concerned
Scientists and others. Join them by lending your support
to S.B. 416.

Endnotes
1 Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Put- major persistint source of human salmonellosis in California. New
ting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in England Journal of Medicine, vol. 316. 1987, at 565-570.
America.” Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD: Pew Commission 10 Consumer Reports. “Dirty Birds.” In Consumer Reports, available
and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 2008, at 13. online at http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/food/food-safety/
2 Aarestrup, FM. Occurrence, selection and spread of resistance to chicken-safety/chicken-safety-1-07/overview/0107_chick_
antimicrobial agents used for growth promotion for food animals ov.htm. Accessed March 4 2009; published January 2007.
in Denmark. APMIS Suppl. Vol. 101, 2000, at 1-48; Florini, K, R 11 Goforth, RL, and CR Goforth. Appropriate Regulation of Antibiot-
Denison, T Stiffler, T Fitzgerald, and R Goldburg. “Resistant bugs ics in Livestock Feed. Journal of the Boston College Department of
and antibiotic drugs: State and county estimates of antibiotics Environmental Affairs, vol. 28, no. 1. 2000, at 39-78.
in agricultural feed and animal waste.” Environmental Defense, 12 Harrison JW and TA Svec. The beginning of the end of the antibi-
2005. otic era? Part 1. Quint Int, 29 (3), 1998.
3 Based on calculations from Melon, M, C Benbrook and KL Ben- 13 Food Safety and Inspection Service, U.S. Department of Agri-
brook. “Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Live- culture. “Foodborne Illness: What Consumers Need to Know.”
stock.” Washington, DC: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2001. Available online at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/FactSheets/Food-
4 Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Put- borne_Illness_What_Consumers_Need_to_Know/index.asp.
ting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in Accessed March 12, 2009.
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5 Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Put- anti-microbial resistance among bacteria isolated from humans
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6 Levy, S, G Fitzgerald, and A Macone. Changes in intestinal flora of 15 Cosgrove SE, Qi Y, Kaye KS, Harbarth S, Karchmer AW, Carmeli
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JS Kroeger, GP Tinkler, et al. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococ- Use by Major Restaurant Chains and Food Service Companies.”
cus aureus (MRSA) Strain ST398 Is Present in Midwestern U.S. Available online at http://www.keepantibioticsworking.com/new/
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7 Chee-Sanford JC, Aminov RI, Krapac IJ, et al. Occurrence and
diversity of tetracycline resistance genes in lagoons and ground-
water underlying two swine production facilities. Applied and
Env. Microb. Vol. 67, 2001 at 1494-1502; Kumar, K., SC Gupta,
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Impact on the Terrestrial Environment. Adv Agro, vol. 87, 2005 at For more information:
1-54. web: www.foodandwaterwatch.org
8 Graham, JP, LB Price, SL Evans, TK Graczyka, and EK Silbergeld. email: california@fwwatch.org
Antibiotic-resistant enterococci and staphylococci isolated from
phone: (415) 293-9900 (CA)
flies collected near confined poultry feeding operations. Sci Total
Env, Article in Press, 2009.
9 Spika J., Waterman S., Hoo G., et al. Chloramphenicol-resistant Copyright © May 2009 Food & Water Watch
Salmonella Newport traced through hamburger to dairy farms: A