Monnes Anderson To Try Again to Curtail Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

The Gresham Democrat and retired public health nurse hopes to follow up on new California restrictions on antibiotic use to ban the use of the medications as a preventive treatment in healthy animals. Most antibiotics in America are used on animals, not humans, and the excessive use of the medications risks the creation of bacterial superbugs that could render the lifesaving drugs worthless.

The chairwoman of the Oregon Senate Health Committee plans to fight again next legislative session to curtail the widespread misuse of antibiotics in farm animals, restricting their use, like human antibiotics, to the treatment of bacterial infections.

Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, told The Lund Report last week that she plans to pitch a public health bill to end the irresponsible if common agricultural practice of routinely giving farm animals antibiotics in their feed to prevent disease and boost growth.

Monnes Anderson said she didn’t know if she’d be able to get any more Democrats to support the measure in 2016 than she did this year, when several Democrats bucked her proposal and sided with the agricultural industry, preventing a floor vote in the Senate.

The retired public health nurse was given a boost last week when the California Legislature passed a bill that requires veterinary oversight of all antibiotic use, bans routine use in feed and creates better tracking of their use. California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed an earlier, industry-friendly antibiotic bill, but is expected to sign this more restrictive bill.

Oregon’s bill will go much farther, prohibiting farmers from injecting their animals full of antibiotics simply to ward off disease.

“The Oregon legislation is stronger and simpler than the CA bill,” said Dave Rosenfeld, the executive director of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, which has led efforts to restrict antibiotics on livestock. “It flatly prohibits routinely giving antibiotics for both growth promotion and disease prevention, has a provision that gives farmers discretion to preventatively treat herd outbreaks, but also requires the largest operations to publicly disclose their antibiotics use. We believe the transparency provision would ferret out operators that abuse the discretion provided by the bill. And, to be clear, farmers could always treat sick animals.”

But not to malign the lobbying successes of his counterparts at the California Public Interest Research Group, Rosenfeld said California’s new law is still a big step forward from the federal government’s proposed rules because it draws a much brighter line between routine use of antibiotics in animal feed and so-called preventive, veterinarian-prescribed use.

Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, who co-sponsored the failed 2015 legislation with Monnes Anderson, said he was hopeful that repeated attempts to restrict antibiotics in Oregon would eventually win passage, comparing it to another public health campaign led by Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, that led to the passage this summer, on her fourth try, of a law that creates tough new restrictions on the use of endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in children’s products.

“I hate the idea that the chicken I eat is loaded with antibiotics,” said Greenlick, a retired doctorate-level healthcare researcher.

Despite mainstream support for the antibiotic restrictions in animals from the American Medical Association, the issue was pushed to the fringes in the 2015 session and failed to come to a vote in the Senate. Despite a Democratic supermajority, Monnes Anderson said the Oregon Farm Bureau successfully lobbied members of her party against the bill, peeling off Democrats wishing to ground their moderate bona fides through siding with Oregon’s farmers.

She didn’t reveal which Democrats opposed Senate Bill 920, but said a majority, like nearly all Democrats in the Senate, were from urbanized areas, not farm districts.

The Farm Bureau argued in testimony that the state should opt for new U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules, which allow farmers to use antibiotics for routine disease prevention as well as killing bacteria.

Precisely for this reason, Rosenfeld said that the new FDA rules fail to protect the public. He said that preventive use weakens the effectiveness of antibiotics by increasing the possibility of bacterial “superbugs” that are immune to the drugs, preventing farmers and humans from using the medications in case of a disease outbreak.

Rosenfeld’s position is backed up not only by the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but scary real-life incidents like the 2013 salmonella outbreak at Foster Farms in California, where several food-poisoning victims were afflicted with bacteria resistant to regular antibiotics.

Family farmers unaffiliated with the Oregon Farm Bureau also supported the bill. Beyond the implications for human health, weakened antibiotics from current overuse could make the drugs worthless for treating animals.

Oregon is not a leading state for livestock agriculture -- only its dairy industry cracks the top 20, with about 1 percent of the nation’s revenues, but the rules would apply to cattle, hogs and chickens. Oregon is in the middle of the pack compared to other states nationally for beef and poultry, with a very minimal swine industry.

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