by Sally Colby
Livestock producers will be under closer scrutiny when it comes to some of the management tools they’ve been using for years, such as drugs for improved livestock performance, and it’s because of the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD).
Dr. Mike Apley, boarded clinical pharmacologist and professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, explained antibiotics for food animals are split into three categories: therapy, prevention/control and growth promotion.
“Antibiotics for growth promotion is leaving,” he said. “Our current administration in the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine considers the use of antibiotics for prevention and control of disease in food animals to be judicious use, and they lump that into therapeutics.”
However, Apley says there are multiple advocacy groups that would not categorize those drugs in the same way. “Prevention and control are next,” he said, referencing products that will likely fall under more control in the future. “Drugs for metaphylaxis, or mass treatment of all animals upon arrival, would be in that category. For beef cattle, it would be any drug administered to the group upon arrival at the feedlot, or something added to the feed or water at the time of weaning an entire group to prevent respiratory disease.” Apley added that advocacy groups claim the only reason producers use these drugs is due to today’s production facilities, so at the crux of the discussion is the nature of livestock production facilities.
Even without pressure from advocacy groups, Apley says it’s critical that producers use available drugs responsibly because there are no new classes of compounds that will be introduced in the near future. “The last time we got a new product class that we’re using today was in 1978,” he said. “We’ve had new modifications since then, but nothing new since 1978. As a responsible industry, it comes down to ‘do we want products to work in the future.’”
One notable aspect of the VFD states that those who use pharmaceuticals must follow through with label instructions. Apley says the VFD is essentially a prescription that requires the veterinarian to work directly with the producer to determine appropriate use. Both veterinarians and producers will be responsible for working together to achieve compliance.
An important part of the VFD is the establishment of a valid client-patient relationship, or VCPR. As the prescriber of drugs, the veterinarian is responsible for knowing enough about how animals are being raised at his clients’ farms in order to be confident about how the product will be used. Each state can create a definition of the VCPR, and in general, will involve at least general knowledge about the livestock on that farm and the producer’s ability to use the product/s responsibly and as intended. This is a great opportunity to improve the working relationship between the producer and veterinarian, and to use antibiotics strategically to achieve a goal.
What should producers do now? Watch for early changes, such as those that will be seen as early as October 2015, for products that include a label that claims potential improved feed efficiency or rate of growth.
Producers should continue to use and develop new animal husbandry methods that reduce the use of certain pharmaceuticals, and look for other ways to manage issues within a group of animals. Consider how feed-grade antibiotics are being used on the farm, and work with the herd veterinarian to develop a plan to reduce or minimize that use. Producers should be aware of the potential for additional paperwork, and if that aspect of farming is lacking, now is the time to start maintaining thorough records. Producers who do not have a VCPR should strive to establish one before the directive goes into effect in 2016.
When producers have an opportunity to talk with consumers about the use of antibiotics in livestock production, it’s important that those producers have effective conversations so that consumers understand that farmers are doing their best to ensure safe food. Most consumers are truly interested in learning more about food production, but they are concerned about the use of antibiotics in food animals.
Some language, or talking points, express blanket statements that are not helpful to the discussion. A statement such as ‘the United States has the safest food supply in the world’ is vague and general, and likely to be a turnoff. It’s more important to acknowledge the consumer’s concerns and explain farmers work closely with their veterinarians to ensure appropriate use of antibiotics and antimicrobials. The consumer won’t know what an ionophore is, but will understand there are antibiotics used only in animals and those products are not the same as products used in human medicine. Emphasize the concept that farmers strive to maintain healthy animals that don’t require medication, and that animal illnesses are managed with the help of a veterinarian.