SALEM — Federal oversight of antibiotic use in livestock production recently sparked debate as Oregon lawmakers considered enacting state restrictions on such treatments.
Proponents of House Bill 2598, which would prohibit treating livestock with “nontherapeutic” doses of antibiotics, claim the legislation is necessary because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t impose adequate limits on the drugs.
Overuse of antibiotics is causing resistance among pathogens, so using the medicine to stimulate growth or to prevent disease in livestock should be stopped, said David Rosenfeld, executive director of the OSPIRG consumer group.
Some antibiotics have already become less effective and aren’t likely to be quickly replaced, he said during a March 24 hearing before the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“They’re not being developed at the same rate we’re losing them,” Rosenfeld said.
The legislation would not be rendered moot by the FDA’s strategy of working with drug manufacturers to phase out some nontherapeutic antibiotic use in livestock by the end of 2016, Rosenfeld said.
The federal program is voluntary and only ceases antibiotic treatments meant to promote growth — most nontherapeutic use is aimed at preventing diseases, so the FDA’s plan is unlikely to significant reduce overuse, he said.
There’s currently no federal statute restricting antibiotics in livestock production, so the FDA’s approach is vulnerable to change under new presidential administrations, said Ivan Maluski, policy director of Friends of Family Farmers, a group that supports stronger antibiotic regulations.
“We’re not necessarily confident the solution is going to come from Washington, D.C.,” he said.
The Oregon Veterinary Medical Association is also concerned about antibiotic resistance but believes HB 2598 falls short of its goals, said Chuck Meyer, the group’s president.
The bill would compromise animal health by banning antibiotic use for disease prevention, he said. Prevention is necessary when dealing with herds of animals rather than individual people, Meyer said.
Proponents of HB 2598 oversimplify the FDA’s strategy by characterizing it as “voluntary,” said Richard Carnevale, vice president of regulatory, scientific and international affairs for the Animal Health Institute, which represents drug manufacturers.
The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to cooperate with FDA rather having the agency go through with the formal process of disallowing certain antibiotic uses, which would drag on for years, he said.
Companies are committing to antibiotic restrictions, by which veterinarians and farmers would have to abide, Carnevale said. “Once this takes place, those labels will be changed forever.”
Of the 18 pathogens identified by the Centers for Disease Control as posing an antibiotic resistance threat, only salmonella and campylobacter are related to animal agriculture, he said.
“In the whole scheme of things, they don’t represent a huge antibiotic resistance problem,” Carnevale said.
Apart from the ban on nontherapeutic use, HB 2598 contains other contentious provisions: confined animal feeding operations would have to report antibiotic use to state regulators and private citizens could file lawsuits to enforce the law.
Proponents of the bill say it’s necessary to track antibiotic usage since the drugs could still be used on healthy animals during emergencies. As for the lawsuits, proponents say the law is meant to be “self-enforcing” and limit the role of government.
Opponents counter that the recordkeeping burden for CAFOs is excessive and that the lawsuit provision will spur attorneys to seek out farmers for litigation.
“That is a very damaging precedent to set here,” said Ian Tolleson, director of government affairs for the Northwest Food Processors Association.
The Capital Bureau is a collaboration between EO Media Group and Pamplin Media Group.