Senate examining antibiotic use in agricultural animals
The Illinois Senate Agriculture and Public Health committees held a joint hearing Nov. 28 to discuss a Senate bill involving the use of antibiotics in the agricultural industry.
Senate Bill 3429 would create the Administration of Antibiotics to Food-Producing Animals Act, which would provide that a "medically important antibiotic" can only be introduced to a food-producing animal if prescribed by a veterinarian licensed under the Veterinary Medicine and Surgery Practice Act of 2004 who has visited that farm operation within the previous six months and only if deemed necessary by that veterinarian for that specified purpose.
The bill also provides that antibiotics cannot be given for more than three weeks and that the owner of the farm operation would need to keep records of beginning and end dates for antibiotic administration in the animals.
Two panels—one that supported the bill and one that did not—that spoke at the hearing. They consisted of farmers, veterinarians, a pediatric infectious disease physician and a public interest advocate with the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG).
Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Vandalia) questioned the first panel about antibiotic stewardship and whether that would be something prescribers are responsible for.
"I think it's absolutely something prescribers should be responsible for," Dr. Matthew Ferrera, a veterinarian, said. "We place prescribers in a very difficult position with a lot of the situations we are in. I can remember back in veterinary school when my professors would say, 'We're prescribing all of these antibiotics and they're not good for public health, but the immediate need was there.'"
Ferrara said we now know there are alternatives to these common preventive uses of antibiotics, which is what the bill is going after, not so much the metaphylactic uses, which are timely medicating a group of animals during a disease outbreak, according to Saunders Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary.
"Do you not feel producers are making a serious effort to address this issue?" McCarter asked.
Dr. Sameer Patel, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital, said that historically the pharmaceutical industry has not been on the side of increased transparency.
"Ultimately, to have measurable outcomes, we have to have better transparency and less reflex use of antibiotics," Patel said. "I think historically, we haven't been on the same page about that."
McCarter also asked about the regulatory structure and guidelines by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Hannah Kim, the public interest advocate for Illinois PIRG, said the majority of antibiotics are sold for use in food production, but there is not a tracking mechanism or enforceable guideline for routine use.
"The bill clearly allows for antibiotics to be used for an animals' health and requires reporting," Kim said.
McCarter asked the second panel about current FDA regulations.
"Are they enforceable and are there consequences when they’re not followed?" McCarter asked.
Dr. Aaron Lower, a veterinarian, said the current regulations are enforceable.
"It's enforceable because we could lose our licenses," Lower said. "They're not guidelines."
The bill was introduced in April. It is sponsored by Sens. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) and Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago).