The federal Food and Drug Administration made headlines this past week with new antibiotics guidelines for the livestock industry, but they won’t mean big changes for Colorado producers.
With its new guidelines, the FDA states that antibiotics important for treating infections in people should not be used for the sole purpose of promoting growth and production in animals. The FDA also calls for livestock owners to get prescriptions from veterinarians for any of those drugs distributed in feed or water.
Meanwhile, livestock producers, veterinarians and other experts in the state say they don’t see the FDA’s highly publicized plan drastically impacting how farmers, ranchers and dairymen already operate here.
Those in the industry say they acknowledge this is an important issue to address (In September, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates that more than 23,000 people per year are dying from drug-resistant infections).
But producers also stressed that they’re already in line with what the FDA is trying to do — meaning it will be business as usual, for the most part.
“I think most will think this is a reasonable step in the direction of helping the consumer feel better about what we do and how we use antibiotics,” said Bill Hammerich, CEO of the Colorado Livestock Association.
For the most part, not much will change, Hammerich added, since the vast majority of livestock owners only use antibiotics for the purpose of preventing or treating diseases and don’t use small dosages of antibiotics to increase production.
“I think that producers truly believe, when it comes to use of antimicrobials, no matter how they’re provided to the animal, that we do take a judicious approach,” Hammerich said. “I would hope that the public would see this as a proactive approach, that we’re not dragging our feet on this issue.”
The biggest change will be that livestock producers won’t be able to get some products over the counter, Hammerich said.
For those with larger operations, he said, working more with veterinarians will likely be a smooth transition, since they’re already used to working closely with vets in preventing and treating diseases in dairies and feedlots.
For smaller operations and those in which animals aren’t confined, the transition over the next three years — the suggested time period for implementation — may be a bit more burdensome at the outset.
“I think that maybe for some of our cow-calf rancher folks in Colorado, it might be at least initially more onerous than what it has been,” Hammerich said.
Hammerich said the new guidelines are not regulations but, from what he’s seen so far, many in the pharmaceutical, agriculture and veterinary industries have indicated that they support the voluntary guidelines.
Steve Gabel, who runs Magnum Feedyards near Wiggins, Colo., agreed in that he doesn’t think the guidelines will have any significant impact on what’s already being done, as he and others in the industry already work to find the most conservative and effective ways to use antibiotics.
He said while some may have fed small doses of antibiotics constantly to animals to improve their growth and production more than a decade ago, that’s simply not the case anymore.
“The industry shut the door on that eight to 10 years ago,” Gabel said.
Paul Morley, a veterinarian and professor in Colorado State University’s Department of Clinical Sciences, said he supports the idea of livestock owners consulting veterinarians before using antimicrobials, largely because vets have the most expertise on disease prevention and treatment.
His major concern with the FDA getting involved would be if it in some way affected the veterinarian’s ability to treat animals with antibiotics. He said these guidelines, thus far, don’t impede that.
Gabel said the FDA guidelines are positive but he doesn’t want to see lawmakers come up with mandates that would impact how he treats and prevents diseases in his animals. He said the important thing to keep in mind is that those who raise livestock are consumers themselves, and they have the same concerns about their products as everyone else.
“I think the industry recognizes that the judicious use of antibiotics has become important enough that either you’re doing it right or you’re not in business,” Gabel said. ❖
To view the new FDA guidelines, go to www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinaryGuidanceComplianceEnforcement GuidanceforIndustry/ucm216939.htm.