Growing concerns about the use of antibiotics in meat and dairy production Wednesday helped push legislation through the state Senate that would require the state to monitor the use of such drugs in animals.
Senate Bill 506, sponsored by Sen. Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) and approved in a 24-13 vote, is the first attempt by state regulators to track the amount of antibiotics and medicated feed being given to chickens, cows, pigs and other livestock. The Food and Drug Administration currently tracks national sales of certain antibiotics.
Sher said the bill is intended to help determine what role these drugs are playing in the increased resistance to antibiotics in humans.
The FDA already has acknowledged that at least one class of antibiotics used in poultry -- fluoroquinolones -- is partially to blame for the development of antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The agency is holding hearings on its proposal to bar the drug from poultry production.
"I think there's a lot of concern about the problem" of antibiotic resistance, Sher said. "We think the place to start is collecting information about how much of this is happening."
Sher's bill would require wholesalers and manufacturers of prescription animal antibiotics to report their sales to the state Board of Pharmacy. Sales of over-the-counter injectable antibiotics and feed additives would be reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The information would be used to determine which antibiotics are being used on animals and in what amounts. That information could then be compared with resistance levels evident in some humans to certain commonly prescribed antibiotics and to target certain types of animals for testing.
"We think this is an important piece of the puzzle," said Dr. Tamar Barlam of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which supports the bill.
"We need to get a sense of what antibiotics are being used and in what settings ... to track their use through the food chain."
However, some in the animal feed industry believe the Senate bill won't go far enough to provide "meaningful" information about how antibiotic-resistant infections are being developed.
"We think the problem requires a broader look than just looking at antibiotic use in agriculture," said Richard Matteis, executive director of the California Grain and Feed Assn., an industry lobby group in Sacramento. The use of human antibiotics should be monitored as well, he said.
The bill now moves to the Assembly.