Feed prescriptions to ensure appropriate antibiotic use

By Sathena Scarborough

St. Paul, Neb., senior

In the world of human medicine, one has to see or call a physician to receive a prescription. This practice, which has become more common in the livestock industry, is called a veterinarian feed directive, also known as a VFD.

A VFD is essentially a prescription from a veterinarian for the use of feed or water-soluble antibiotics for livestock. They have been around for a while, but are now more strictly enforced. Over the years, antibiotic use has become stricter and more regulated, which hopefully will reduce antibiotic misuse in animals.

The United States Food and Drug Administration regulates these rules for VFDs. Feed antibiotics are often used because they are more affordable and easier to administer than injectable antibiotics. Producers have not lost accessibility to these antibiotics, but the way they have to be obtained and used has changed. The livestock production industry is changing and adapting to what consumers now want in a food product, which is as little antibiotic use as possible.

Veterinarian feed directives, said Progressive Cattle, have been around longer than most people realize, but they were not used as much as they should have been.

On Jan. 1, 2017, the FDA made a pivotal movement for the livestock industry concerning acquiring and handling antibiotics. Amendments to the preceding VFD required veterinarian review. Many of the antibiotics that were available over-the-counter, or as “production use,” have been removed from products.

The new VFD rule affects certain antibiotics that are considered “medically important” to humans and that are administered through feed. VFDs are often thought about as being in feed, but water-soluble antibiotics are also important. Antibiotics that are considered “medically important,” such as chlortetracycline and oxytetracycline, now require a script from a veterinarian.

The FDA rule change still allows certain products over-the-counter. Ionophores such as Rumensin and Bovatec, which are used to increase feed efficiency and daily weight gain, are not considered medically important and do not require a VFD unless used with a VFD drug. Other over-the-counter antibiotics, such as an injectable or a bolus, are not affected. 

Since a veterinarian is now required, it is important to maintain a good veterinarian-client-patient relationship also known as VCPR. This is similar to having a family doctor for your livestock. It is key that the veterinarian has sufficient knowledge of the patient’s livestock to provide the right feed or water antibiotic. A VCPR document signed by both producer and veterinarian should exist. Then the VFD is needed before the feed antibiotics can be ordered, and the feed distributor needs proof that the requirements have been met.

A new VFD would be needed for each drug to be used. Permits usually expire after six months, and a producer needs to keep it in the records for at least two years.

Since it has been a few years since the FDA implemented these rules, cattle producers have had time to adjust, but some ranchers are still struggling with the fact that they can’t get what has worked for them for years.

The veterinarian feed directive is a way the agriculture industry is proactively looking into concerns about antibiotics resistance. Antibiotic resistance is not the issue, but producers need to conserve the use of antibiotics for the future. With a VFD, it may be worthwhile for producers to look at natural alternatives, such as prebiotics, to advance gut health and avoid health issues before they even take place. Prebiotics promote good bacteria and builds natural defenses, so a calf will hopefully never have a bad day.

It is important for a producer to know the regulations that are associated with a VFD. The world of veterinary medicine is ever-changing, mainly to meet the demands of the consumer and the producer. A veterinarian feed directive might be the first of many changes that will happen to the livestock industry.

Sathena Scarborough, a 2017 St. Paul High School graduate, is majoring in animal science and agricultural business at Fort Hays State University. She is the daughter of Lauren Scarborough and Jennifer McDonald, St. Paul, Neb.

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