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Maryland’s New Antibiotics in Livestock Law: What Does it Mean for Your Farm?

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

By Sarah Everhart

Boy caring for a brown cow (Photo Credit Edwin Remsberg).

During the recent Maryland General Assembly session, the “Keeping Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017” (the Antibiotics Act) was passed into law. The controversial Act was amended substantially before its passage. Proponents of the Antibiotics Act want the use of antibiotics in cattle, swine, and poultry controlled to prevent the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. Yet the need for the Antibiotics Act baffled some, given the federal Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rule went into effect on January 1, 2017.

The VFD rule requires veterinary supervision for feed-use antibiotic drugs and prohibits using antibiotic drugs for growth promotion or feed efficiency. For more information on the VFD rule, check out this recorded webinar hosted by ALEI featuring state and federal experts. Previous to the VFD rule, feed-use antibiotic drugs were available over-the-counter. Currently, all drug companies have changed the use conditions of their antibiotic feed drugs by removing “feed efficiency and growth promotion” from the label. Critics of the VFD rule say there is a loophole in the federal system which allows producers to use the drugs in the same manner as before the VFD rule (in continuous low doses otherwise known as sub-therapeutic use) and simply say they are now using them to prevent disease rather than promote growth. This purported loophole was eliminated in the passage of a California law in October 2015 prohibiting the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food producing animals, for both growth promotion and disease prevention purposes.

The recently passed Antibiotics Act mirrors the VFD rule by prohibiting the administration of an antibiotic (referred to in the law as a medically important antimicrobial drug) to cattle, swine, or poultry solely for the purpose of (1) promoting weight gain or (2) improving feed efficiency. An antibiotic may be administered if a veterinarian feels it is necessary to treat disease or infection, control the spread of disease or infection, or prepare the animal for surgery or medical procedure. Both the law and the VFD rule also allow a veterinarian to prescribe the use of an antibiotic to address an elevated risk of contraction of a particular disease or infection. Like the California law, the Antibiotics Act starting on or after January 1, 2018, will also prohibit producers from routinely feeding cattle, swine and poultry an antibiotic at low doses for disease prevention. Violations of the law may result in an administrative penalty not exceeding $2,000. The Antibiotics Act does not apply to small operations, specifically on a farm operation selling fewer than 200 cattle, 200 swine, or 60,000 birds per year. However, the federal VFD rule does not have any exemptions for small farm operations.

As originally proposed, the Antibiotics Act would have required producers to submit all copies of Veterinary Feed Directives and prescriptions for antibiotics to the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). These records would have been collated and then made public. This provision was removed from the final version of the Antibiotics Act and replaced with a requirement for MDA to review publicly available Maryland-specific data from sources such as the Center Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and national trade associations, and make it available to the Maryland General Assembly.

Maryland’s Antibiotics Act is mostly complementary of the federal VFD rule, but does make Maryland the second state in the nation, after California, to take the further step to strengthen the federal rule by expressly prohibiting the routine, sub-therapeutic dosing of cattle, swine, or poultry with antibiotics for disease prevention.

Maryland farmers with questions about the use of antibiotics on livestock should email or call 410-841-5810.

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