Veterinary Feed Directive cutting down on use of Chlorotetracycline or CTC
On Jan. 1, 2017, the Veterinary Feed Directive was implemented to require that a veterinarian write a prescription before livestock producers can obtain certain feed antibiotics. Since then, livestock producers, feed dealers, distributors and manufacturers, nutritionists and veterinarians have had to work closely together to meet the new rules under the VFD guidelines.
However, it hasn’t been so simple. The details are somewhat murky as the Food and Drug Administration altered the original rules throughout the allotted period for public commentary. For veterinarian Jake Geis, DVM, of the Tyndall Veterinary Clinic in Tyndall, S.D., even the training seminars left some of the details of the VFD very unclear.
“In order to be ready for the VFD, I attended multiple seminars and continued education on the topic starting 18 months in advance,” Geis said. “Unfortunately, the requirements set out by the FDA kept changing over that time period, but by my last meeting in December 2016, the final form had been worked out. I also contacted our neighboring feed mills, so we were all on the same page. Since the first of the year, we’ve learned a few more things about writing VFDs and client expectations, and we’ve been able to make the process work.”
Chlorotetracycline or CTC seems to be one of the most widely used feed antibiotic products that now require a VFD.
“A big concern clients have brought to me is the hand-fed vs. free choice issue with CTC,” Geis said. “Since CTC is only approved for anaplasmosis as a free choice feed, it becomes a big issue if a producer had been using it in creep feed for calves on pasture. However, most of our clients were previously using CTC as it was labeled, so the change hasn’t been an earth-shaking issue at this time.”
Naomi Loomis, the manager at Double A Feeds in Bridgeport, Neb., says in her neck of the woods, CTC is used predominantly for the prevention and treatment of foot rot in stocker cattle and grazing mother cows throughout the wet Sandhills region she runs cattle in.
“The problem with using CTC for foot rot is the product label doesn’t list is as a treatment for foot rot,” she said. “This really becomes an issue for large producers who have traditionally used CTC to cover cattle on thousands of acres of grass. Now, they are going to be doctoring cattle all of the time, and with the stress of handling and treatment, I’m not sure that’s exactly better for the animal than simply leaving some crumbles in a mineral tub.”
Where the rules get really confusing, Loomis said, is a VFD is required for a customer to receive a 10-gram CTC product; however, the 50-gram CTC product is not included in FDA’s list of feed antibiotics.
“Feedlots are now requesting that 50-grams of CTC, but I still encourage them to obtain a VFD because I want to be safe and remain in compliance as a dealer,” Loomis said. “So far, veterinarians have been really helpful in our area, but as a dealer, I’ve had to help them learn the nutrition side of things a little bit more. They aren’t accustomed to calculating doses for large groups, so I’ve reminded them how to calculate what 500 head of calves weighing 500 pounds will need for 10 days if giving them a 10-gram CTC. It’s not what they are used to thinking about in their practices.”
While it’s still too early to tell, Loomis has seen a reduction of sales in CTC and thinks producers may start to look at alternatives to feed antibiotics to promote health in their cattle.
“Producers are using iodine as an addition to their mineral programs to fight foot rot, and we’ve seen an increase in sales of loose mineral and blocks, as well,” she said. “I’m also seeing more interest in products like Rumensin, Bio-Mos and yeast products that work to promote immune systems and ward off disease.”
Geis has also seen a growing curiosity in his customers to learn more about prebiotics for optimizing gut health and preventing issues that would require antibiotic treatments.
“There has been an increase in interest in alternatives to VFD medications, prebiotics included,” he said. “I believe this regulation may increase the research into the efficacy of and adoption of these alternative therapies.”
Veterinarian Jessie Liebenstein Christensen, DVM, owner of Mid River Veterinary Clinic in Chamberlain, S.D., says although it’s been somewhat confusing at times, her clients are moving forward under the new VFD guidelines.
“The hardest thing for my clients to understand has been why they can’t use the products as they normally have,” she said. “For example, if they ship in a load of healthy calves and want to offer them CTC upon arrival, now they can’t. The calves may or may not get sick, and that’s difficult because illness has the potential to eat away at their very small profit margins. It’s a hard frame of mind to change, and I’ve been addressing it case by case. If a guy is buying a group of calves that have been preconditioned at the neighbors’ place, he probably doesn’t need a VFD for CTC. If a guy is buying calves that come from a place that historically has some issues, then we are going to treat those high-risk calves with some preventative measures.”
MEETING WITH RANCHERS
Ranch visits have allowed Liebenstein Christensen to keep in touch with her clients and what issues they might be facing and provide VFDs as needed.
“I think we’ll see producers move away from using CTC over time, and we’ll probably see an increase in sales of injectable products,” she said. “Whether that’s good or bad is still hard to say for sure. One thing I do know is the VFD is getting producers to talk to their veterinarians more about health protocols. Health and nutrition all work together, so working together as veterinarians, nutritionists and producers can help achieve that producers’ goals for the operation. I encourage producers to continue working with their veterinarians and remember that we are simply trying to comply to these rules, too. We all have a stake in this and want to get it right.”
For livestock producers, some see the VFD as a political move that encroaches on ranchers’ profits while others feel it’s just one extra step to address the issue of antibiotic resistance in humans.
“This is another cost to the farmer to absorb, and we can’t pass it on,” said Mike Lynch, who runs a cow-calf and finishing operation near Mapleton, Minn. “We have a close relationship with our vet, so getting the VFD isn’t an issue. However, we have a 300-head feedlot and to order AS700 to start feeders on a large quantity for the whole barn to save on freight and get a quantity discount. Unfortunately, the VFD rules do not allow us to pre-order when placing cattle.”
Of the rule, Chuck Ringkob, a cow-calf producer from Jackson, Minn., said, “I think it is a pain! It’s Obamacare for livestock. It took all of the over-the-counter medications and made them prescription drugs and created more paperwork for everybody involved.”
Craig Moss, a cattle feeder from Hull, Iowa, said, “It’s an extra hurdle to jump over, and a good relationship with the vet is key. We added an additional liquid supplement tank to handle Bovatec feed to be in compliance, and we’ve switched off Rumensin to Bovatec while on CTC. It makes for an additional load of feed to mix and some papers to keep track of. I call my vet and he writes the VFD, and I get the amount of product I need. There’s no charge for the VFD when I buy CTC from him. Overall, it’s relatively painless for me.”
BENEFICIAL TO HEALTH
Despite what the critics may say, Ryan Eichler, a producer from Columbia, S.D., believes the VFD could prove beneficial to animal and human health.
“While it’s an extra step and not without some pain, I believe it will help keep antibiotic tools available to producers,” Eichler said. “I wish we could message it more as an industry to consumers. They had concerns, and the industry is addressing them. Most food animals now have a dietician and general practitioner (to put it in consumer terms), and that’s a great story to tell.”
Geis agreed, “I don’t think many consumers are aware of the VFD. However, I want them to know that with this regulation, it is no longer legal to use an antibiotic of human importance for growth promotion. This would go a long way to addressing consumers concerns.”
Many consumer groups weighed in during the comment period surrounding the creation of the VFD rules. One group of 53 concerned moms from Illinois wrote to the FDA saying, “It may seem hard to believe, but while people need a doctor’s prescription to take antibiotics when they are sick, anyone can buy these drugs for cows, chickens, and pigs over the counter, with no prescription or veterinary involvement required. Given the vast quantities of antibiotics used in livestock today and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance I believe that stewardship of these drugs is vital. Please require real veterinary oversight for antibiotic use on all farms.”
Other groups such as Keep Antibiotics Working and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future were also keen to see the VFD come to fruition. Despite the push for more regulatory oversight of feed antibiotics in livestock, it’s unclear whether it will move the needle on the issue of antibiotic resistance and it’s uncertain whether the average consumer is aware of these extra steps the livestock industry is taking to address this hot-button issue. ❖
— Radke is a cattle rancher, freelance writer and agricultural speaker from Mitchell, S.D. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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