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Dr. Terry Lehenbauer Testifies Before Senate Committee on Agriculture

May 1, 2015

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Dr. Terry Lehenbauer testified in the hearing of California’s bill regarding antibiotic use in livestock.

Faculty member and VMTRC Director Dr. Terry Lehenbauer recently provided testimony in the hearing of California’s antibiotic bill regarding use in livestock. SB 27, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill, would, among other things, require that medically important antimicrobial drugs are not administered to livestock unless prescribed by a veterinarian.   Another bill dealing with medically important antimicrobial use in food animals -  that was also authored by Senator Hill and passed last fall by the California State Legislature  - was vetoed by Governor Brown because he believed that more needed to be done to reduce the use of antimicrobials in livestock and poultry.

Dr. Lehenbauer appeared before the Senate Committee on Agriculture as a veterinarian and scientist to address the issue of antibiotic use in livestock and poultry, antibiotic resistance and the impact on public health.   Among those testifying at the hearing were California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) President Dr. Dayna Wiedenkeller and CVMA Agriculture Committee Chair Dr. Mike Karle.

The spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses is a growing problem in human medicine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections cause 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses nationwide each year. According to Dr. Lehenbauer, avoiding misuse of antimicrobials in human patients is an important area for reducing antimicrobial resistance.  These misuses include unnecessary prescriptions of antimicrobials for viral infections, too frequent prescriptions of broad-spectrum antimicrobials in place of better targeted antimicrobials, and failure to complete a prescribed regimen of antimicrobial treatment.  There is also growing concern about the contribution to resistance by the use of antimicrobials in animals, including food-producing animals.  California is one of the world’s primary agricultural producers in dairy and livestock.

In his testimony, Dr. Lehenbauer spoke from his knowledge and experience working in the livestock industry during his professional career as a clinician, and being involved in research related to use of antimicrobials in food animals.  

“Through my experience in clinical veterinary practice, I have direct knowledge of the needs and opportunities for improving judicious use of antimicrobials in food animals, the implications that those uses have for public health and an awareness of the societal concerns of how antimicrobials are used in food-producing animals,“ he said.

Following are the main points he discussed:

•    His role as a veterinarian during his career in food animal practice to not only diagnose and treat clinical disease,  but to focus and emphasize prevention of disease and promotion of health of herds and groups of food animals under his care. Antimicrobials were only one of the tools that he used to help prevent disease, in addition to their use for treating animals with clinical infections.

•    The responsibility of veterinarians for good stewardship of their medical resources including antimicrobials, especially those that are medically important for treating humans.  Antimicrobial resistance is a very complex phenomenon.  While progress has been made in advancing knowledge and understanding this challenge, more research is needed to better understand the factors and inter-relationships that expand the risk of increased antimicrobial resistance.

•    Significant efforts are underway at the national level to improve the judicious use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals.  State-level efforts shouldn’t get too far ahead or stray too far from what is already underway at the federal level with respect to changes in the ways that antimicrobials are being used in food animals.

•    He referenced the outcomes from two studies related to use of antimicrobials in food producing animals and the risk for an adverse human patient outcome with treatment, because of antimicrobial resistance related to therapeutic use in food animals.  

•    He discussed his concern with the data collection portion of the bill because of the federal effort currently underway between FDA and USDA to develop better data collection systems for monitoring antimicrobial use in food animals.

Dr. Lehenbauer plans to continue to work with Senator Hill and his staff to find common ground in advancing the cause of reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance related to use in food animals.