How those who raise livestock administer certain antibiotics will change beginning Jan. 1, 2017. That’s the date farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and feed suppliers must comply with the Federal Drug Administration’s revised Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for feed-based antibiotics.

According to Jordan Dux, director of national affairs for Nebraska Farm Bureau, FDA has expanded the list of antibiotics included in the federal VFD. The upshot is that to use any of those products (see list in sidebar on page 7), you’ll need a VFD order from your veterinarian. These are antibiotics FDA has determined are “medically important” for human health.

As of the effective date, they can no longer be used for growth promotion or feed efficiency in livestock. Those uses will come off the label, Dux said. “Therapeutic uses of livestock feed or water containing these antibiotics will be allowed for control, treatment and prevention, but only under oversight of your veterinarian in the form of a written or electronic VFD. The form then will have to be presented to the feed company,” he said.

The new rule will not apply to antibiotics used by injection, tablet or water. Water soluble versions will require a prescription, but injectable versions are not affected.

How It Works

A VFD order from a veterinarian allowing a producer to feed a VFD drug or combination VFD drug is limited to six months. Dux provided an example: “Tilmicosin has an expiration date of 45 days and a duration of use of 21 days. This means that when the VFD order is issued, the client (producer) has 45 days to obtain the VFD feed and complete the 21-day course of therapy. It’s unlawful to feed a VFD drug after the expiration date of the VFD order.”

Additionally, the extra-label use of the VFD antibiotics is prohibited after Jan. 1 2017, even by authorization of veterinarians. Those uses currently have been granted by vets in certain situations to allow producers to treat animals in a way not specified on the label.

Dux said that animal health products not included in FDA’s revised rule include ionophores, polypeptides, carbadox, barnbermycin and pleuromutilin.

For those who raise livestock, at the very least, it means extra paperwork and keeping a close relationship with their vet.

This relationship with the vet is referred by FDA as a valid “veterinary client patient relationship (VCPR),” a phrase some producers may not recognize. It isn’t a formal document between the two. Generally, it requires a licensed vet to be familiar with the producer and his livestock management and to assume responsibility for making animal diagnoses, and the producer must agree to follow the vet’s instructions.

If a farmer or rancher doesn’t have a VCPR, it’s time to begin working with a vet to create one.

Smaller Herds

Dr. Dee Griffin, a veterinarian and professor at the UNL’s Great Plains Veterinary Education Center in Clay Center, said the majority of the state’s livestock producers already have this type of veterinarian relationship. He believes that producers with smaller cow herds, say 50 head or fewer, who don’t regularly work with a vet should contact one ahead of the effective date.

This FDA revision, developed over nearly two decades, stems from concerns by the medical profession and consumer groups regarding resistance in antibiotics used in human health, according to Griffin.

“This final step in the process offers more for livestock producers that it is thought to take away. Plus everyone in agriculture needs to do its part to be a responsible user of these products.”

Dux agrees, saying he understands the concern of farmers and ranchers. “However, the alternative could be worse,” he added. “These changes are a small price to pay to continue using these drugs considering a lot of consumer groups and lawmakers wanted to totally eliminate their use. The push for their elimination seems to get stronger,” Dux said.

Pork producers like Mark McHargue of Central City, while agreeing with the need to address antibiotic resistance, worries that eliminating off-label use of medicated feeds could delay treatment of certain diseases. Off-label uses are allowed now by authorization of a veterinarian, but that won’t be permitted after Jan. 1.

“For instance, if the weather turns cooler and I notice my pigs starting to cough I can contact my vet who might authorize tetracycline to quickly get a head and clean up the cough before it became too serious. With the changes, I will need to get a specific diagnosis from the vet who then would have to write a prescription among a group of drugs for treatment,” said McHargue, vice president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “That could mean a delay in finding an alternate product, potentially causing a larger outbreak in the herd. I won’t be able to on top of a disease concern. I’ll have to be reactive,” McHargue said.