Ag industry criticizing antibiotics bill
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Agriculture advocates are protesting a state bill that would further restrict farmers and veterinarians from treating their animals with antibiotics.
Senate Bill 471, sponsored by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, would tighten a law passed in 2017 meant to reduce the overuse of medically important antibiotics on livestock and poultry.
Veterinarians hoping to protect animals from disease or infection can use those antibiotics as a prophylaxis if the risk of contraction is “elevated,” according to state law. Pinsky’s bill redefines “elevated” to not include risk typically or frequently present on the farm.
It also limits to 21 days how long those drugs may be given to cattle, swine or poultry as a prophylaxis unless federal label directions mandate otherwise. A veterinarian could extend that period for up to 21 additional days, but only after conducting an on-site visit.
The bill would make Maryland “the first state to remove the farmer’s ability to prevent disease in their livestock and poultry,” the Maryland Farm Bureau told members in an e-mail last month. In effect, farmers and veterinarians will have to wait until animals are sick to treat them, said Colby Ferguson, the Farm Bureau’s government relations director.
“It flies in the face of good animal husbandry,” he said. “It really hurts animal welfare, and we really believe it’s going to harm food safety.”
Beginning in 2021, the bill would also prohibit the administration of medically important antibiotics to dry dairy cattle unless they have an intramammary infection.
Veterinarians would also have new reporting requirements under the bill. Beginning in 2021, all licensed vets would need to give the state agriculture department copies of each medically important antibiotic prescription or veterinary feed directive administered to all cattle, swine or poultry over the previous year.
John Brooks, a Kingsville veterinarian and member of the Maryland Agricultural Commission, called the bill “ill-conceived”.
“What they’re saying is, ‘We don’t trust you, so we want to know how every injection was given,’” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The bill was written to close an existing “loophole” in the 2017 law regarding prophylactic use of antibiotics, said Ian Ullman, a Pinsky spokesman. It reduces the reporting burden on farmers by placing it on veterinarians, he said, and should further prevent unnecessary use of medically important antibiotics.
“It might require some changes in husbandry practices,” he said. “A lot of the industry is already doing this.”
But a federal law in 2017 that prohibited farmers from giving livestock and poultry antibiotics to promote growth and feed efficiency has had a “dramatic impact” on unnecessary antibiotic use, Ferguson said. Antibiotic use in poultry nationwide fell by nearly half from 2016 to 2017, he said. It fell by 35 percent in beef cattle and 33 percent in swine.
“Just by passing the federal law, it shut down the overuse and misuse of antibiotics,” Ferguson said. “It just gutted it.”
Exempted from the regulations would be cattle on a farm that sells fewer than 200 cattle per year; dairy cattle on a farm with fewer than 300 dairy cattle; swine on a farm that sells fewer than 200 swine each year; and poultry on a farm that sells fewer than 60,000 birds each year.
The bill, which is cross-filed with another in the House, was voted on favorably in committee and passed its second reading March 13.