Veterinary Feed Directive: What producers need to know for the new year

Photo credit USDA/NRCS

SALEM, Ohio — If livestock producers haven’t looked into the recent requirements of the Veterinary Feed Directive, they should probably start now. Beginning in January 2017, producers who regularly use medicated feed for performance enhancement will be limited.

“The biggest change is you’re not going to be able to go to your feed store and pick up (these medicated feeds). You’re going to have to work with a vet,” said Craig Zimmerly, DVM, County Road Veterinary Services, Apple Creek, Ohio.

That means small herds that don’t have a traditional veterinary-patient relationship are going to have to get one. “Most producers will probably be OK and be able to do what they normally do to protect their breeding herds,” said John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator, Piketon Research Center.

Related: Dairymen, the VFD is on its way (June 2, 2016)

What is it?

The Veterinary Feed Directive, or VFD, was originally enacted under the existing Animal Drug Availability Act of 1996. It labeled certain drugs as Veterinary Feed Directive Drugs, which are antibiotics that are also used to treat human illnesses.

The VFD is enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and only applies to feed grade antibiotics — medicines administered to animals in or on feed — and will ultimately rule out its use in growth promotion and feed efficiency.

The FDA’s main concern is improper or overuse of these drugs may be contributing to antibiotic resistant bacteria, making it more difficult to treat human illnesses. To regulate usage, producers will be required to receive a VFD — similar to a prescription — from a veterinarian to use VFD labeled drugs.

January 2017

A list of VFD antibiotics will be expanded to include many commonly used livestock medicines beginning Jan. 1, 2017. Medicines deemed “important for human medicine” and used by both humans and animals will require a written VFD from a veterinarian in order to be used on livestock for treatment, control, or prevention of illness only.

“We can still use them for treatment and prevention of disease, just not performance,” said Grimes. Antibiotics used exclusively in animals to treat illness and promote growth will not be affected by the VFD label. These drugs include: Ionophores, Polypeptides, Carbadox, Bambermycin and Pleuromutilin.

Find a vet

One of the keys to preparing for this change is to have a Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR), explained Chase Crawford, D.V.M., director of the Antimicrobial Resistance Initiative, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges — “whether it is a new thing or making it a more formalized nature than it used to be.”

In order to issue a VFD, the veterinarian has a responsibility to be familiar with the operation and care and management of the livestock. The veterinarian also assumes a responsibility to make sure the producer understands the treatment dosage and usage requirements and provides any necessary follow up or care.

“If someone calls (me) and says, ‘I want a bottle of this (drug)’ and it has been two to three years since I have been out to their farm, I am somewhat responsible if they don’t use it as directed,” said Zimmerly. Having that working relationship with a vet makes it easier for a producer to reach out when they have questions about medications or animal care, explained Zimmerly.

Don’t wait until the next December to start forming that relationship with a vet, said Grimes. “When you have your next appointment with the vet, start asking questions.”

VFD requirements

In order for a veterinarian to issue a VFD, they must be licensed to practice veterinary medicine and operate in compliance with state-defined VCPR requirements. The VFD (paper or electronic) must contain producer information — i.e. name, location, animals being treated, etc. — and the name of the VFD drug issued.

A copy of the VFD should be provided to the producer and the feed distributor, and a copy should be kept on record for two years. The producer may only feed animals based on the VFD label requirements and may not continue to feed the animal with feed after the expiration date listed. The producer must also maintain all VFD records for two years.

A feed distributor may provide VFD feed only if the VFD contains all required information and complies with VFD terms. The distributor is required to provide a one-time notice to the FDA if it plans to distribute VFD feeds and an acknowledgement that it will only sell VFD feeds to producers with valid VFD orders. Feed distributors must also maintain VFD records for two years.

Thinking outside the box

“We are going to be limited. We are not going to have the crutch of every antibiotic to deal with disease that we have had,” said Grimes.

“We are going to have to start thinking outside of the box instead of saying ‘it stinks that we don’t have this antibiotic anymore,’” said Zimmerly. “Maybe we don’t really need it.” Zimmerly suggests looking into the environment in which the animals live. A disease like foot rot might be solved by taking better care in making sure the area in which the animal lives is clean and dry.

“We are going to have to do a better job on the basics; better management practices to prevent diseases,” said Grimes. Taking into consideration barn ventilation and sanitation practices to prevent animal illnesses is one way. “We need to think about prevention instead of rescue,” he added.

Judicious use

Veterinarians hope to receive more clarification on what producers can and can’t do in the coming months as this directive unfolds over the next year. “It’s kind of a gray area and not a lot of people really know about it yet. A lot more education needs to be done,” Zimmerly said.

“Sometimes, in agriculture, we get caught in saying we are shouldering all the blame. We get in trouble because animals require a larger volume of antibiotics,” said Grimes. “We need to look at how we can make this a win-win.”

“Judicious use of antibiotics is something that we as producers need to strive for,” said Zimmerly.

For more information on the VFD visit the Food and Drug Administration website.


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Catie Noyes lives in Ashland County and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture communications from The Ohio State University. She enjoys photography, softball and sharing stories about agriculture. Formerly a reporter for the Farm and Dairy, Catie is now pursuing her master's degree in education.



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