Md. legislators  might revisit policy toward ag antibiotics

Associate Editor

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Dec. 27, 2016) — The state’s agricultural community will continue to face legislative pressure to limit the use of antibiotics on livestock operations in 2017, the Maryland Farm Bureau said this month.
State lawmakers may reconsider legislation, spearheaded last year by Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, that would prohibit farmers from giving antimicrobial drugs to cattle, swine or poultry without a prescription or veterinary feed directive from a licensed physician, said Colby Ferguson, the Farm Bureau’s government relations director.
The bill requires that a veterinarian must have visited the farm within the previous six months at the time of the prescription or directive to determine the drug was necessary.
It also requires veterinarians to report all antibiotic usage to the state department of agriculture for public disclosure, though it would have protected the farmer’s identity.
“Basically they’re saying that if the animal’s not sick, you can’t treat it,” Ferguson said at the University of Maryland’s 2016 Agricultural Outlook and Policy Conference on Dec. 14. “There’s a push out there within small special interest groups that we should not use any antibiotics at all.”
Exempted from the bill, however, are dairy cattle, cattle on farms that sell fewer than 200 head per year, swine on farms that sell fewer than 200 head per year and poultry on a farm that sells fewer than 60,000 birds per year.
The Farm Bureau has opposed the bill, in part, because it’s more restrictive than incoming federal regulations regarding veterinarian feed directives, which go into effect Jan. 1, Ferguson said. It also conflicts with those regulations. A state analysis from last year also said the bill could have a meaningful impact on some small business livestock and poultry producers who did not meet exemptions.
“Despite potential changes in permitted uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture by the end of 2016, under FDA’s 2012 and 2013 voluntary industry guidance, the bill’s prohibition appears to be more restrictive than permitted, labeled uses of antibiotics that conform to the FDA guidance, at least with respect to disease prevention (where a disease has not yet been detected in an animal or flock or herd),” the analysis from the Department of Legislative Services said. “The bill may put Maryland producers at a disadvantage to producers in other states to the extent it decreases producers’ level of production and/or increases input costs for alternative disease prevention measures.”
Related legislation from Dels. Clarence K. Lam, D-Baltimore County, and Shane Robinson, D-Montgomery County, that requires vets to report feed directives to the state may also be reconsidered, he said.
Statewide “energy sprawl” legislation is also on the Farm Bureau’s radar. The organization supports an incoming bill supported by the Maryland Association of Counties that would grant county governments more influence over the siting of alternative energy projects, Ferguson said. Agricultural officials have lamented the energy industry’s rapid expansion into the region over the last several years as firms have leased or purchased large swaths of farmland for solar farms. He said he expects the bill to face hostility from solar and environmental groups.
“It’s going to receive a lot of flack,” he said.
The surprise November victory of incoming Republican President-elect Donald Trump may also inspire blowback against agricultural interests, particularly in a solidly Democratic state like Maryland, Ferguson said.
“We just don’t know what kind of backlash bills are going to come because of the new federal administration,” he said.
The Maryland Department of Agriculture’s is also monitoring continuing efforts to target the poultry industry, including its expansion on the Eastern Shore, said Matt Teffeau, MDA director of government relations. He said he also expects continued pressure on contract arrangement regulations between growers and integrators.
“It’s going to be a very hot and heavy session,” Teffeau said.