Veterinary Feed Directive: Upcoming livestock antibiotic regulations likely to hit smaller producers harder | TheFencePost.com

Veterinary Feed Directive: Upcoming livestock antibiotic regulations likely to hit smaller producers harder

Nikki Work

When Dale Jackson, who runs a small herd of cattle near Kersey, talks about antibiotic use in livestock, he stresses the importance of keeping consumers safe.

But it's important to him to keep his cattle safe, too.

There's no parent in the country who wouldn't give sick kids the medicine they need, he said. The same goes for farmers and their animals.

When the Veterinary Feed Directive goes into effect in January 2017, ranchers like Jackson will have to find a balance between maintaining herd health and pacifying the concerns of consumers and medical professionals about antibiotic resistant bacteria because of overmedication in livestock.

The Veterinary Feed Directive was implemented by the Food and Drug Administration last year and will require a veterinarian-issued prescription for all feed-grade antibiotics that are deemed important for human health, such as penicillin or sulfa. That means as of January 2017, any feed a rancher uses that has those medications in it — whether it's to treat sickness or prevent it — will have to be prescribed by a veterinarian. Up until now, these feeds were available over-the-counter.

The World Health Organization identifies antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health. Resistance to antibiotics is a natural process, according to the organization, but antibiotic misuse in both humans and animals exacerbates the issue. The more certain strains of bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the more of a resistance they can build up to the drugs, making them more difficult to treat and more likely to cause serious illness.

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"A growing number of infections — such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and gonorrhea — are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective," according to the World Health Organization. "Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year in the U.S., at least 2 million people are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. More than 20,000 people die from these infections. The Veterinary Feed Directive was put in place to help the livestock industry cut back on antibiotic use and reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

If the problem is left unchecked, antibiotics could be rendered useless and what are considered minor infections and injuries could become fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

Some in the industry, like Jeff Loyd, manager at Producers Feedlot in Greeley, don't agree that antibiotic use for livestock plays a large role in antibiotic resistance.

"I think it's more of just a headliner. It gets people's attention," he said. "It doesn't pay. Economically, you can't (overfeed antibiotics) because the antibiotics cost too much. What they say we do, economically, is not feasible."

Loyd said the new regulations won't make too much of a difference in daily operations at the lot. There will be a little more paperwork, but the biggest difference will be an increase in veterinary oversight. Loyd said he expects the feedlot might see an increase in veterinary costs, but it shouldn't be too substantial.

The regulations will likely hit smaller producers harder than they will hit large ones, said Hannah Klein, veterinarian at High Plains Cattle Supply in Platteville. "It's the smaller producers that are going to get surprised," Klein said.

Jackson runs a small herd — fewer than 20 head — and doesn't feed antibiotics. He relies on injected antibiotics, which already need a prescription. But as president of the Weld County Livestock Association, he and other area ranchers have been educating themselves about the new regulation, because it will have a wide impact, mostly in rancher-veterinarian relationships.

Where large operations and feedlots already have good veterinarian relationships to build from, smaller operations might be starting from scratch, Klein said. A small producer with only a few animals may only have a veterinarian out once a year or if there's a problem, whereas large operations typically already see their vets regularly and for preventative visits.

For ranchers who don't have good connections with their veterinarians, it's important to find a vet and have them out to the farm to evaluate herd health and facilities sooner rather than later, Klein said.

Once the Veterinary Feed Directive is enacted, veterinarians will assume full responsibility for any misuse of prescriptions, so they will not issue feed-grade antibiotics to producers they don't know and trust, Klein said. That's why forming these bonds early is so important.

With about six months to go until the directive is implemented, Klein said she's started to see a few inquiries trickle in. Soon enough, once fall weaning and fall pregnancy checks start, she expects more producers will start consulting with their veterinarians, since that's in sync with the natural beef cycle.

Klein said since the implementation of the Veterinary Feed Directive will require more paperwork and oversight at every level — the producer, the veterinarian and the distributor of the feed — there may be an uptick in costs. Who will absorb those costs remains to be seen, but she anticipates it will be the producer or the veterinarian.

"As a veterinarian, I'm just trying to get the word out and get producers prepared so that they can take steps to get ready," she said. ❖

More info

To learn more about the Veterinary Feed Directive, go to the Food and Drug Administration’s website here.

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Regulated under the VFD

The Food and Drug Administration implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD, which will require farmers to get prescriptions on most antibiotics that they would normally get over the counter for their livestock feed. The program will begin Jan. 1. 2017. Here’s list of regulated antibiotics:

» Aminoglycosides

» Diaminopyrimidines

» Lincosamides

» Macrolides

» Penicillins

» Streptogramins

» Sulfas

» Tetracycline

What is not regulated under the VFD:

» Ionophores

» Bacitracin

» Bambermycins

» Carbadox

Other nonantimicrobial drugs or other drugs that are already regulated.

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