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ANNAPOLIS, MD. – As antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” become an increasingly-dangerous threat to Americans’ health, Maryland is adopting a law that could help protect the public. Gov. Larry Hogan announced today that he will allow the updated Keep Antibiotics Effective Act (SB471/HB652) to become law, although he won’t sign the bill. This crucial new law will ensure both that farmers in Maryland restrict antibiotic use on livestock and poultry when animals are not sick and also collect important data regarding antibiotic use on farms.
The bills were introduced by state Sens. Paul Pinsky and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and state Del. Sara Love to strengthen and codify regulations in the 2017 Keep Antibiotics Effective Act. The 2017 law aimed to curb the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria by eliminating routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry when animals aren’t sick.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) enacted problematic regulations for the law in January 2019. Legislators, public health professionals, and advocates expressed concern that the regulations failed to address the routine use of antibiotics on large farms and undermined the intent of the law. While the legislature worked with MDA to improve those regulations, the new law makes important provisions permanent and also includes a critical provision requiring reporting about antibiotic use on farms: the data will help ensure compliance with the law and track progress in reducing antibiotic use.
“Antibiotics are our last defense against life-threatening infections,” said Dr. Pat McLaine, a registered nurse and member of the Maryland Nurses Association. “We must protect our precious antibiotics so they are effective when they are needed most: sickness and surgery”
Maryland PIRG and a wide array of public health, labor, business, and environmental organizations are applauding passage of the bill because it clarifies and expands the law to address errors in MDA’s regulations and to help ensure proper implementation.
The Keep Antibiotics Effective Act:
Adds new definitions and clarifies definitions for key terms so there’s no confusion that the law reduces unnecessary antibiotic use. Terms addressed include: “Administered in a regular pattern,” “Control of the spread of disease or infection,” “Elevated risk,” “Prophylaxis,” and “Treat a disease or infection.”
Adds an exemption for dairy farms with herd size of fewer than 300, to be in line with the small farm exemptions for poultry, pork and beef.
Adds a requirement for veterinarians to report annual use of medically important antibiotics to ensure compliance with the law and track progress.
Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr explained, “Without antibiotics, cancer treatments and routine surgeries would become too dangerous to perform because of risk of infection. Protecting antibiotics is something everyone can get behind and while we are disappointed Governor Hogan didn’t sign this critical bill, we are delighted that the bill will become law.”
“To keep our miracle drugs working when people and animals need them, we have to stop squandering them on livestock that are not sick,” said Mae Wu, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This new law makes Maryland a leader in the fight against the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections.”
Before antibiotics, infections were the leading cause of death in America. That danger declined for decades. But as resistant bacteria render these drugs less effective, drug-resistant infections are now estimated to be the third-leading cause of death in this country - killing up to 162,000 people and sickening at least 2 million people every year. The annual estimated cost in the United States of such infections exceeds $55 billion per year.
Ending the routine use of antibiotics in agriculture has been identified by the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and other leading health groups as a key strategy to fight the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance.
In the United States, approximately two-thirds of antibiotics are sold for use on livestock and poultry. Much of it is used not to treat sick animals but rather to compensate for poor diets and cramped, unhygienic living conditions. This routine use of antibiotics accelerates the development of drug-resistant bacteria which can travel off of farms and into our communities through human-to-animal contact, contaminated food, insects, and environmental factors including water run-off, dirt and airborne dust.
Laws such as the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act are our best defense against this mounting menace.
The Maryland Campaign to Keep Antibiotics Working is made up of healthcare, public health, environmental, consumer, and animal welfare organizations, individuals, and companies working together to stop the misuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
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