Bills would prohibit livestock producers from administering antimicrobial drugs

On Tuesday, Maryland lawmakers will consider Senate Bill 607, which aims to prohibit cattle, swine or poultry producers from administering antimicrobial drugs to their herds. Those that support the bill call it a necessary step to stop humans' increasing antimicrobial resistance. Opponents believe the bill goes above and beyond federal regulations for antibiotic use in livestock and would perpetuate more sick animals.

"To ban the ability to prevent disease from affecting your animals could be a death sentence to many livestock if or when a sickness were to break out in your herd," said Colby Ferguson, the Maryland Farm Bureau's Director of Government Relations.


One of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a Democrat representing Baltimore and Baltimore County, said she submitted the legislation at the request of University of Maryland nursing students.

"When farm animals are given antibiotics in their feed and we eat it, we can develop resistance," said Nathan-Pulliam, who is also a registered nurse. "If we get sick, antibiotics must not work."

University of Maryland School of Nursing assistant professor Robyn Gilden, of Finksburg, said there is no clear link to livestock feed and humans' antimicrobial resistance, but she believes some action is needed.

"We're losing the ability to fight infections," Gilden said. "We need the agricultural industry to do their part in fighting antibiotic resistance. We don't want to just blanket treat all animals when there's no disease present."

Ferguson, who also operates a small swine operation outside of Woodsboro, explained that farmers do not blanket treat their animals without reason. He said there are federal regulations which go into full effect Jan. 1, 2017, that will address the primary issues that many people have with using antibiotics in livestock.

"To put what the federal regulations will do into layman's terms: Right now livestock producers can buy feed-grade antibiotics over the counter at a feed mill. Under the new regulations, the livestock producer would have to get a prescription from their veterinarian to have these antibiotics put in their feed," Ferguson said. "Therefore, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics will come to an end in January of next year.

"There is no need for this state bill as it would actually perpetuate more sick animals on a farm which would most likely lead to a much greater risk of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in undercooked meat," he said.

Maryland State Veterinarian Dr. Michael Radebaugh said the bill is essentially a duplicate of the Food and Drug Administration's Veterinary Feed Directive.

"It is unnecessary to pass additional legislation when FDA's new animal feed regulations will go into effect starting 2017," Radebaugh said. "We are also concerned that the department would not have the resources to implement certain provisions outlined in the bill."

Matt Hoff, who milks more than 1,100 cows and farms over 2,300 acres at his Coldsprings Farms in New Windsor, said the bill is unnecessary.

"I don't understand why they are trying to make a repetitive law as the FDA is coming out with all new guidelines that basically cover most of the same drugs," Hoff said. "It sounds like more government oversight, paperwork and waste to me."

Hoff said more regulations will mean less farmers, citing that Maryland's dairy farms have declined from 649 farms to 443 between 2005 and 2015. That loss has created a 14.5 percent loss in the state's milk production.

"Dairy farms are just plain leaving," Hoff said. "Most don't want the headaches so either you hire a consultant or just go work for someone else and then sell or rent your farm to someone who wants to deal with it."

An identical bill is submitted in the House of Delegates and is scheduled for a committee hearing Wednesday.


If you go:

What: Hearing on Senate Bill 607

When: 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 1

Where: Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, Annapolis