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Will New Maryland Law Change Antibiotic Use on Farms?

World Health Organization recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
World Health Organization recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
November 27, 2017

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Starting in January, Maryland becomes the second state in the nation to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in animals.

The state's new Keep Antibiotics Effective Act will prohibit large farms from feeding healthy cattle, hogs and poultry antibiotics at low doses to promote growth. It's a response to public health concerns that overusing antibiotics - both in agriculture and healthcare - contributes to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

Maryland State Veterinarian Michael Radebaugh pointed out that very few antibiotics are used in both humans and animals to treat bacterial infections.

"Of all the antibiotics that are used in people, a very small amount of those are also used in animals,” Radebaugh said. "You can't really compare apples to apples on this; the humans are using different antibiotics."

Critics of the new state law have said it's a good start, but a loophole undercuts the overall goal by not requiring confirmation of disease in a flock or herd before using antibiotics. The law also doesn't apply to small farm operations selling fewer than 200 cattle or swine, or 60,000 birds per year.

California is the only other state to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in animals.

Professor Ellen Silbergeld with the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health also worked on the World Health Organization's strongly worded recommendation against using antibiotics in healthy animals.

"And one of the first things we said was 'no' - no giving drugs to animals unless you know the disease you're afraid of, you're concerned about, it is actually present in the herd or the flock, and you know what drug to use,” Silbergeld said.

State officials say the new law will do just that, as it prevents the use of medically important antibiotics and requires a veterinarian's permission to use antibiotics, including recommended dosage for targeted treatment.

Health care policy expert Jordan Cooper said he remains concerned about widespread antibiotic resistance on a global scale.

"People are actually getting sicker in hospitals; tax dollars and health insurance premiums are increasing,” Cooper said. "This all is a result of the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture. It'll hit your pocketbook and it will hit your loved ones. And that's why everyone ought to care."

Cooper also suggests that people ask their doctor if an antibiotic prescription is absolutely necessary before taking it.

According to the World Health Organization, consumers are also driving the demand for meat raised without antibiotics, with more major food chains adopting "antibiotic-free" policies for their meat supplies.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - MD