A state law recently signed in California by Gov. Jerry Brown limits farmers and ranchers from providing antibiotics to livestock unless they have a prescription from a veterinarian and the drugs will be used to treat a disease or to prevent disease, provided this preventive use is not routine.
The law, introduced by California Sen. Jerry Hill, is set to take effect in January 2018.
In addition to the new prescription requirement, the law also requires the California Department of Food and Agriculture to gather information on the use of antibiotics in meat production to track how they are being used.
It’s the latest in a series of regulations or proposed regulations aimed at controlling the use of non-therapeutic antibiotic use in animals.
The U.S. FDA in the spring of 2012 first proposed changes to how "medically important" antibiotics – those used also in humans – are used in animals. Namely, FDA called for the growth promotion uses of many products to be eliminated and for veterinarians to increase oversight of the remaining antibiotic uses.
The FDA released the changes in guidance for industry documents, first asking pharmaceutical companies to remove from drug labels indications for use related to growth promotion.
On June 2, FDA finalized its veterinary feed directive rule, which explains simply that use of animal antimicrobials will be brought under veterinary supervision, and will be administered "only when necessary for assuring animal health."
While the FDA's approach is "collaborative" and requires volunteer participation from animal pharmaceutical companies, the California legislation is not voluntary.
According to Consumers Union, Consumer Reports' advocacy arm, the new regulations in California are the toughest of any state.
"California's new law establishes stronger limits than current voluntary federal guidelines and should prevent the irresponsible use of antibiotics for meat production," said Elisa Odabashian, Director of Consumers Union's West Coast Office.
Other national efforts have been aimed at better tracking of antibiotic use, similar to California's requirement.
A group of Senators last year suggested that improving data collection on antibiotic sales and distribution would allow the U.S. FDA to begin to estimate species-specific antibiotic use. A proposed FDA rule, announced this year, would collect more information on sales of antibiotics for animals.
The White House has also made antibiotics a priority area, creating an "action plan" to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.