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California Governor Considers Landmark Law To Limit Antibiotics In Livestock

(KPIX 5) -- California may be about to get another first-of-its kind law that could dramatically change the way farm animals are treated.

Governor Brown has until October 11 to decide what he'll do about SB27, a measure that would ban the routine use of over-the-counter antibiotics in livestock and instead require a veterinarian's prescription for the drugs, that are used for a variety of purposes ranging from disease prevention to growth promotion. Lawmakers sent the bill to the Governor last month.

Bill sponsor Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) says one of the intended effects is to make antibiotics more effective in humans. He and many public health officials say overuse in farm animals has led to greater antibiotic resistance in people, making some diseases harder to treat. "We know we need to do something," Hill says. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that two million Americans fall ill from antibiotic resistant bacteria each year; of those, an estimated 23,000 will die.

Elisa Odabashian, Director of State Campaigns for Consumers Union says the measure also creates a system to track livestock producers antibiotic use. "This gives us a tool whereby we can go to companies and say 'you are using antibiotics improperly. We didn't have that tool before," Odabashian told ConsumerWatch. And she says that's needed because some meat producers rely on the drugs to "allow animals to live in crowded, filthy environs so they don't develop disease." Her hope is that by eliminating routine use, farm conditions will improve. "I think it's a huge change. It should be," she told ConsumerWatch.

RELATED: Most Fast Food Chains Flunk Antibiotic Test

Justin Oldfield of The California Cattlemen's Association, which represents the state's beef cattle industry, says his group is not taking a stand on the measure. "We care about superbugs and antibiotic resistance as much as consumers do," Oldfield said.

So what will it mean to consumers? Oldfield says: "I don't believe it will affect the price of meat."

If Governor Brown does not veto the measure, it is slated to take effect January 1, 2018.

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