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San Francisco holds public hearing on antibiotics in meat ordinanceSan Francisco holds public hearing on antibiotics in meat ordinance

Stakeholders warn of unintended consequences ordinance will likely have.

Krissa Welshans 1

March 20, 2018

5 Min Read
San Francisco holds public hearing on antibiotics in meat ordinance

The Department of the Environment in San Francisco, Cal., held a public hearing this week regarding implementation of a newly adopted ordinance that will require approximately 120 large grocery retailers in the city to annually report antibiotics used in livestock production, making it the first city to do so. The Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Ordinance was signed by the San Francisco mayor on Oct. 24, 2017, and became effective on Nov. 23, 2017. 

Diane Sullivan, a social justice advocate from Massachusetts who fights for food affordability and who provided testimony at the meeting, said the meeting was held mainly to discuss the reporting aspect of the ordinance as it relates to retailers. However, several stakeholders used the opportunity to testify on what will likely become unintended consequences of the ordinance.

Sullivan told Feedstuffs that one individual at the meeting who represented the state’s grocers testified about the burdensome nature of the ordinance. “He spoke to how complicated these regulations will be and how challenging it will be for retailers to be held responsible for getting information from producers,” she said.

Sullivan testified about her own experience with poverty and how regulations like the recently passed ordinance can increase food insecurity for low-income individuals and families.

“I really wanted to be there, because what I’ve found in my work is that when certain regulations around agriculture are passed, I feel like there is not a lot of consideration given to low-income consumers," she said. "Any increase in costs to food production is, of course, passed along to the consumer. What I’m finding more often than not is low-income consumers don’t have a voice in the debate."

She explained that her own experience with hunger, homelessness and policy has shaped how she looks at these types of issues.

Regarding the ordinance, Sullivan testified, “When examined through a social and racial justice lens, these policies equate to a cruel indifference to those struggling to feed themselves by manipulating food costs. Any increased cost to food production is ultimately absorbed by the consumer, harming most those who have the least.”

She further stated, “With the high poverty rate in the (San Francisco) Bay Area and as gentrification continues to drive up the cost of housing, one in four San Franciscans struggles with hunger. I caution city leaders to better understand how these unintended consequences will harm the city’s most vulnerable residents.”

She called the ordinance “a hidden regulatory tax on animal protein” that leads to a concept she has coined "food gentrification," which is when people with money and satisfaction in choices define the landscape for those with neither.

Sullivan said, during the hearing, “the folks from the city definitely acknowledged that they need to look to the experts. Farmers, vets and retailers were named.” She said she hopes her presence at the hearing will help them realize that there are other stakeholders who haven’t been engaged or whose perspective hasn't been sought.

The legislation requires grocers in the city to report information to the Department of the Environment that includes, but is not limited to, the different purposes for which antibiotics are used, whether the use has a third-party certification, the average number of days an antibiotic is used per animal, the percentage of animals treated with antibiotics, the number of animals raised and the total volume of antibiotics administered. The reporting is also required to distinguish whether the antibiotics used are currently medically important or not. Once received, the information would be publicly disclosed to consumers via a website.

If, at any point, the director determines that a grocer has violated the ordinance, the grocer will receive a warning and then will have 30 days after receipt to correct the violation. Failing to comply could result in the director imposing penalties, including fines and/or the suspension or revocation of any permits held.

The ordinance also includes a section that says the city attorney, a grocer or any nonprofit organization with tax-exempt 501 (c)(3) or 501 (c)(4) status and “with a primary mission of protecting human health and/or the environment in the San Francisco Bay Area” may bring a civil action to “compel compliance.”

Any grocer who knowingly and willfully violates the ordinance will be guilty of a misdemeanor. Conviction is punishable by a fine of no less than $50 but no more than $500 for each day per violation or by imprisonment in the county jail for a period not to exceed six months; a violation could also result in both a fine and imprisonment. A grocer in violation will also be liable to the city for a civil penalty in an amount not to exceed $1,000 per day per violation.

“Each day in which the violation continues shall constitute a separate violation,” the ordinance states.

A variety of stakeholders have expressed opposition to the ordinance, including the California Grocers Assn. (CGA) and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), which had sent letters to the board discouraging the action prior to its approval.

CGA said the ordinance regulates retailers in an “aggressive manner” and claimed that the city is using retailers as a “middleman.”

“Instead of patching together a complicated regulatory scheme, which will be hoisted on retailers without control over antibiotic use or without access to antibiotic use information, we encourage the city to compel the information directly from the producer,” CGA suggested, adding that this approach would ensure accurate and verifiable information.

In a letter sent prior to the vote, NAMI argued that the ordinance would be a “recipe for failure” because it would put livestock and poultry producers whose products are sold in the city, processors and packers at a competitive disadvantage due to the recordkeeping necessary to comply. NAMI further pointed out that meat that eventually arrives in San Francisco could come from other states as well as other countries, making the whole process of recordkeeping burdensome to all involved.

However, the group said it is consumers who ultimately will pay the price in the form of more expensive meat and poultry products.

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