Veterinary Feed Directive will impact whole livestock industry, but many aren’t aware of the regulation
February 5, 2016
When the Veterinary Feed Directive goes into effect in 2017, it will impact nearly everyone in the livestock industry.
But at the Colorado Farm Show this week, when Christine Gabel, territory business manager with animal health company Zoetis asked a room of farmers and ranchers if they'd heard of it, she was met with silence. Most looked to their neighbors, foreheads crinkled under the brims of cowboy and baseball hats.
"It's going to impact all of us," Gabel said, surprised and concerned so few people knew about the regulation.
Last year, the Food and Drug Administration implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD, which will require farmers to get prescriptions on most antibiotics they would normally get over the counter for their livestock feed.
Farmers worry this could have dramatic effects on their operations.
Come Jan. 1, 2017, every livestock producer who uses an antibiotic considered important to human health, such as penicillin or sulfa, will have to comply. The regulation covers antimicrobial drugs administered via feed or water, but not via injection. It also will hit every retailer that sells these products and every veterinarian.
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The directive was created to limit the use of antibiotics only for disease treatment, control and prevention, rather than for growth or maintenance purposes, Gabel said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected by bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment, and more than 20,000 people die from these infections. The directive was put in place to mandate judicious antibiotic use in livestock to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
That's something nearly everyone should be able to get behind, said Brett Kaysen, diary productivity specialist at Zoetis.
"At the end of the day, really what we want is the most healthy animals on the farm level to support the most healthy protein going into the food chain," Kaysen said.
Gabel gave a presentation on the first day of the show, and again with Kaysen on the second day of the show, which concluded Thursday. Both of them emphasized animal health already is ranchers' priority; this is just changing the system.
So how will this new requirement look?
As an example, when a dairy cow calves, after the initial feeding, the mother's milk is too valuable for the calf to nurse. That milk is how the farmer makes his money, so the calf goes on a milk replacer, which often is medicated. Medicated milk replacer is one of the feed-grade antibiotic products that falls under the Veterinary Feed Directive. For the farmer to put the calf on this milk replacer, he must get a prescription from his veterinarian, fill it at a distributor who has registered that specific prescription with the FDA and ensured every qualification of the directive is met, then keep the records of that transaction for two years.
What happens when the dairy cow goes into labor unexpectedly during a blizzard and the prescription isn't ready for the calf's arrival? Filling a prescription isn't a same-day process, said Stuart Gebauer, sales manager in the feed division for Agfinity. Farmers and ranchers won't be able to call distributors with last-minute requests like these under the new regulation.
It also means the relationship between producers and veterinarians must be stronger, Gabel said. Veterinarians will be held liable for abuses of directive prescriptions, so if they don't think a producer is using an antibiotic properly, or even if they don't have a good understanding of their operation, they might not issue the prescription to begin with.
"(They) need to be comfortable with you as an operator and your operation," Kaysen said.
Gabel said now is the time to start fostering those relationships. Since the VFD regulation will be in effect by the start of 2017, there's time for both producers and vets to ask each other their questions.
In one of the presentations, Laura Negley of Eads asked what this meant for rural areas with shortages of veterinarians. Gabel didn't have the answer, but she said it's an issue that needs to be addressed in the coming year so livestock producers in small counties aren't left behind.
Several producers also raised concerns about whether the costs of the oversight and potential audits will trickle down to the rancher. The answers on this aren't clear either, and likely won't be until the regulation kicks in.
Nevertheless, Gabel said it's important to raise awareness now, so there are fewer surprises in 2017.
"It's coming," she said, "whether we're ready or not."