by Valerie Verkamp
To combat the unnecessary use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, a new directive is changing the way veterinarians, feed suppliers and animal suppliers use antibiotics.
Experts say the broad use of antibiotics and antimicrobial drugs in animals has reduced the effectiveness of drugs used to treat life-threatening infections in humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two million Americans develop a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotics each year and as many as 23,000 people die as a result.
To safeguard the effectiveness of antibiotics used to treat these infections, policy makers fully implemented the Veterinary Feed Directive aimed at preventing over-expose to antibiotics in food.
Rather than purchasing medicated feed over-the-counter, Dr. Kent Jackson of the Jackson Animal Clinic at Platte City said the new rule requires animal suppliers to obtain a veterinarian's prescription to buy antibiotics from a supplier.
“This is all designed to help protect our food supply from unnecessary antibiotics,” said Dr. Jackson.
Since the new directive's rule came out on Jan. 1, Dr. Jackson said he has not had an influx of local cattle farmers requesting low-level antibiotics. But that may soon change as livestock owners now need to work with a licensed veterinarian to help identify diseases and treat them.
Veterinarians have had the necessary training to accurately care for animals, which is why the Food and Drug Administration deems it important that veterinarians be involved to prevent the overuse or misuse of antimicrobials.
“Antibiotics are an important tool in the proper care of an animal's health,” said Amie Schleicher, regional livestock specialist and associate extension professional of the University of Missouri Extension. “We want to make sure that we continue to have them as an option for animal care. We encourage our producers to work with a veterinarian on an animal health program for their operation that looks at animal health from a systems approach and focuses on prevention.”
Many local animal producers are already doing this.
“The changes to antibiotic regulations are affecting certain feed-grade and water-soluble antibiotics used in food animal production that have been identified by the Food and Drug Administration as medically important,” said Schleicher.
Animal producers must now receive a written order from a licensed veterinarian before they can use a product that contains antimicrobials that are important for human health. The written order must include the veterinarian's identification, client's name, the animals to receive the VFD, description of the product and the last date it can be used.
“This is requiring additional paperwork and time in our veterinarian community, as well as with our feed dealers and animal health suppliers,” said Scheicher. “The VFD is similar to a prescription, but not technically a prescription.”
Once the written order has been issued, it can be sent to the feed supplier to be distributed to the animal provider.
Scheicher said the changes to antibiotic regulations may affect a number of feed dealers and animal health suppliers.
“It is possible that a feed dealer or animal health supplier may not carry certain products any longer,” she said. “If they do carry the product, the additional steps of having to get the VFD will likely result in the process taking extra time. We urge producers to start the conversation earlier rather than later.”
The new rule also prevents animal producers from using feed with antimicrobials for performance enhancement or growth promotion in livestock.
Experts are hopeful these new measures will help protect against the imminent threat of antibiotic resistance.
Ryan Verkamp, a small livestock farmer, said it is too early to tell exactly how much the new rule will impact his family farm operation, but foresees several limitations.
“I have only administered medicine when it is truly needed, such as to treat pink eye or other highly contagious illnesses,” said Verkamp. “Now I will need to rely on a veterinarian to treat these types of illnesses. Who can afford to have a veterinarian on-call?”
Verkamp also pointed out most veterinarians today dedicate their practice to treating smaller animals.
“There seems to be a shortage of veterinarians that treat large animals,” he said.
Despite any added cost and necessary record keeping, Verkamp isn't too concerned about the additional oversight.
“We are going to see how this year goes,” he said.