Feed-grade antibiotics will soon require VFDs
The livestock industry has been the target of much criticism over the last decade as fears about antibiotic resistance in humans have escalated, with many placing the blame on production agriculture. The topic of antibiotic resistant pathogens is an emotional issue, and although the link between antibiotic use in livestock production and human resistance to antibiotics is weak, the reality is that consumer perception often results in persistent societal demands that quickly become strict regulations imposed on food producers.
In June, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its final rule on feed-grade antibiotics, which will now require a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD). The rule, which will go into full effect by December 2016, would require that manufacturers remove claims of growth promotion and feed efficiency from their labels.
“There are five reasons to use feed-grade antibiotics in livestock production, including disease control, treatment, prevention, feed efficiency and growth promotion,” said Dustin Oedekoven, DVM, South Dakota state veterinarian. “Since 2013, USDA has asked companies to remove the claims of feed efficiency and growth promotions because if cattlemen are using feed-grade antimicrobials for production purposes, then potentially that wouldn’t be considered a ‘judicious’ use of the products. However, the use of antibiotics in livestock production will still be available for use at times when they are needed.”
Oedekoven said VFDs have been used since the late 1990s, and the use of feed-grade antibiotics such as tilmicosin or florfenicol has required a veterinarian’s approval prior to the use of these drugs.
“The topic of antibiotic resistance in livestock and human health has a long history,” said Oedekoven. “From the White House, to individual agencies, to activist groups, to producers, there has been much discussion about how to reduce antimicrobial resistance for the antibiotics used in humans. This is not just an animal agriculture issue; in the human health side of things, doctors are trying to use antibiotics more judiciously, as well.”
An additional change in the rule is the classification of “medically important” feed-grade antibiotics, which are currently available over-the counter and will now require a VFD. These medically important antibiotics include drugs like penicillin, cephalosporins, fluoroquinolones, and tetracyclines.
“These feed-grade antimicrobials will still be available for producer use, but it will be important to have a relationship with a veterinarian,” said Oedekoven. “In a lot of ways, the changes that are happening are what have already been promoted for years through the Beef Quality Assurance program. It’s important to know what you’re treating, why you’re treating it, and for how long, to avoid antimicrobial resistance in the livestock.”
While change may be difficult for some, Oedekoven encouraged livestock producers, veterinarians and feed manufacturers to think positively about the upcoming changes.
“The bottom line is that feed-grade will still be available for use and will still be used for disease control, prevention and treatment,” said Oedekoven. “Whenever there is change, it’s easy to focus on the negative aspect in how it might makes things different; however, there is a lot of good to focus on here. As an industry, we are focusing on having a better relationship with veterinarians. This move also gives some good credence to using antimicrobials judiciously in livestock production. This is one way to prove to consumers that the animal agriculture industry is using these product appropriately and according to a veterinarian’s direction.”
Of course, livestock producers aren’t the only ones feeling pressure about the new rule. Feed mills and feed manufacturers face some changes, as well. Jarvis Haugeberg, feed manager for Dakota Land Feeds, LLC, says the landmark changes of requiring a VFD for feed-grade antimicrobials will result in extra steps for feed mills.
“With producers needing a VFD to order feed-grade antibiotics, it will require a lot of record-keeping on our part, and these records will need to be kept on file for two years,” said Haugeberg. “We are working to develop relationships with veterinarians, and we will do what is required to be in compliance.”
Haugeberg said there are still many questions what this new rule will require, particularly about the VCPR (veterinary-client-patient relationship).
“There are a lot of questions still unanswered about what a VCPR really means,” he said. “Each state has certain standards, but in the case of South Dakota, we don’t have a particular standard, so it falls back on the federal definition. However, the federal wording is somewhat vague, which allows veterinarians some flexibility, but the downside of that is it’s unclear what is required because the law doesn’t clearly specify in detail. This gives the industry some anxiety because if you don’t know what the standard is, it’s difficult to comply. But, we’ll deal with things one step at a time, and I’m quite confident our questions will soon have answers, and Dakota Land Feeds and our competitors will comply with the new rules.”
While Haugeberg is skeptical about the relationship between antibiotic use in the livestock business to human resistance to antibiotics, he believes the industry has no choice but to get on board and follow the rules.
“The evidence of antibiotic resistance being an issue for humans as a result of the feed industry is pretty thin,” said Haugeberg. “Regardless, it doesn’t matter what I think because there are people out there who do believe it’s an issue. The fact of the matter is, there are some consumer groups who have pushed the FDA for a long time to bring the antibiotic use in animals to a halt or, at the very least, to let the FDA have significant oversight. Personally, there is no part of me that could possibly believe that feeders giving a low-level amount of antibiotics could ever be a human health threat. However, we will be in compliance with this law.”
Haugeberg said compliance will be important to not only follow the law, but to also protect the livestock business from further public scrutiny.
“One of the things that we look at, in this day in age, is the sanctity of our brand,” he said. “The animal agriculture industry doesn’t want to be the one getting blasted on social media or CNN because of this as it would reflect so badly on our brand. Overwhelmingly, I think the majority of the feed industry will be in compliance with this rule, and as our producers get their questions answered, I think they, too, won’t have any problems with obtaining the VFD for feed-grade antimicrobial use.”