New Livestock Law (SB 27) Will Regulate Animal Antibiotics

With Senate Bill 27 (SB 27) now law, California becomes the first state to significantly support the move toward judicious use of antibiotics in livestock, including new restrictions on how antibiotics can be used.

SB 27, which was authored by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), took effect January 1, 2018, and is a ground-breaking step toward bringing all users of antibiotics together in the fight against growing resistance to antibiotics from bacteria that can impact both human and animal health.

The new law, which other states may soon follow, requires livestock producers to obtain prescriptions from veterinarians for all medically important antibiotics (i.e., those used by humans) that they intend to give to livestock. The law also prohibits livestock producers from using antibiotics on healthy animals in order to promote growth.

Under the SB 27 law, the California Department of Food and Agriculture is also required to gather information that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of various preventative care practices, changes in the use of antibiotics and impacts on the levels of bacterial resistance and animal health.

California State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones said that while most bacterial resistance to antibiotics that threatens human health is related to antibiotic use in humans, all living beings that use and depend on antibiotics must be a part of the solution or the death toll from “super bugs” may continue to rise.

“Over time, bacteria become more and more resistant to antibiotics, leaving physicians and veterinarians with less effective tools when combating some infections,” said Dr. Jones. “In response, among other things, experts have been studying and implementing changes in the way antibiotics are used to try and slow the development of resistance.  A cornerstone of this change is to ensure antibiotics are only used when necessary, and then to ensure the most appropriate antibiotic is applied to a specific type of bacterial infection by the most effective route for the optimal period.  Licensed medical professionals have the training and continuing education necessary to be in the best position to make those determinations.”

Dr. Jones added that before SB 27, humans and non-livestock animals—such as household pets–could only gain access to important antibiotics through a prescription.  The same is true for most types of antibiotics given to livestock, but some, including penicillins, tetracyclines and a few others, could be purchased as over the counter medications.  While this is still the case in the rest of the country, California producers and veterinarians came together in support of SB 27, which now shifts all use of medically important antibiotics under the oversight of veterinarians.

The change, said Dr. Jones, will add new challenges to more remote ranchers that need medications to treat sick animals sometimes on very short notice. “However, livestock owners as a whole support moving in this direction,” maintained Dr. Jones.

“While action is slow to occur nationally, California producers have shown their willingness to invest in judicious use of antibiotic principals through their support of the passage of SB 27, including the requirement to include a veterinarian in medical decisions. The hope is that these investments on their part will help to preserve antibiotics into the future for all of us.”

If you have questions concerning SB 27, consult your local veterinarian. You can verify the license of a veterinarian on the California Veterinary Medical Board’s website at

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