With mixed feelings, veterinarians and livestock producers in Marion County and around the country are gearing up for the Jan. 1 implementation of a federal mandate that will track the use of antibiotics in their herds and flocks.
Once the Veterinary Feed Directive takes effect, livestock producers will be required to work alongside a veterinarian when it comes to using medicated feeds for their animals.
Focus on antibiotics
The mandate from the Food and Drug Administration addresses the use of antibiotics that have normally been considered “over the counter” and are administered through the feeding of the animals, according to veterinarian Jessica Winter, owner of Hillsboro Animal Clinic.
“They will now require a script from a veterinarian,” Winter said. “What brought this subject to light is the FDA’s concern of antibiotic overuse in animals causing drug resistance in humans. The FDA is aiming to better keep track of, and regulate the use of, antibiotics in our food-producing animals.”
The federal mandate, which applies mostly to cattle, hogs and chicken producers in this area, has generated questions and concerns as implementation date nears.
Overreach or beneficial
Some say the VFD is one more example of federal government overreach, but others see some good in it.
“I think we all have mixed feelings about anything that’s new,” said veterinarian Brendan Kraus, owner of Spur Ridge Vet Hospital in Marion.
“On the positive side, consumers are concerned about how their food is being produced,” he said. “If nothing else, it may give (consumers) some assurance that we have a system in place to make sure there’s not abuse of antibiotics.
“That’s what I’m trying to focus on. I think it’s a good thing.”
“I believe the VFD is relevant and needed in the food animal industry today,” she said. “As producers and as veterinarians, we must maintain the common goal of producing a quality product while holding ourselves to the standards of our consumers.
“If our consumers are concerned with the end product, then we must keep them happy by going above and beyond.”
Veterinarian Jessica Laurin of Marion, owner of the Animal Health Center in Marion, said the influence of consumer watchdog groups such as PETA and CREW have elevated the concerns.
“They have an idea that what we utilize in agriculture for antibiotic use could have an impact on human antibiotic resistance,” Laurin said. “It’s still a huge question. There needs to be a lot more research to either prove or disprove this theory.”
Vet, producer connection
Another advantage of the new directive is that it should enhance the connection between the producer and veterinarian.
“I think it will have limited impact on (producers), other than making sure they have a good working relationship with a veterinarian,” Kraus said. “Most of (the extra work) will be on the veterinarian’s end, to make sure that we have the proper forms filled out for them.
“It will increase our involvement a little bit with producers, which will give us a chance to discuss things other than this—which is good,” he added. “We’ll be able to have a little closer working relationship with those guys and gals.”
According to Laurin, each state defines how they envision a veterinary’s client-patient relationship when the veterinarian is issued a license to practice.
“It’s that we are out there in an appropriate manner of time to understand how they’re taking care of the animals and what need to be done for sickness, for health issues or exposure to others,” she said. “We need to understand their operation and be able to give the appropriate assistance.”
Laurin added that the VFD is no “one size fits all” directive.
“Every producer has their own operation,” she said. “The requirement for a veterinarian coming out to one farm may be a little bit different for someone else. For example, if cattle are only on the place during the wintertime, there’s no need for me to be there in the summer.
“That’s a simple way of saying that every producer is going to have a different type of requirement based on what kind of cattle they have and when they have them on the place.”
The three veterinarians aren’t alarmed by the directive, and agree it will mean some additional work and record-keeping by producers and veterinarians. But they see potential positive benefits in the long run.
“The VFD will give the producer more opportunity to educate themselves on the products they are using, it will give the veterinarian an opportunity to consult on the proper usage of the products, and will allow the feed mill to maintain more specific records of sale and usage of the product they are selling,” Winter said.
“All of these benefits will in turn allow our industry to better support our belief that food-producing animals from the United States offer the highest quality of food for our consumers.”
Laurin said the directive can enhance the performance of veterinarians who have been in the field a long time.
“There’s a lot of veterinarians around the country that have to get themselves educated again about feed use of antibiotics,” she said.
“It’s a better thing because we understand how animals get sick with different things, so it makes sense that we have to do a better job of making sure we can help the producer understand that.”
Producers need to know that the federal mandate is a directive, not a suggestion. It is a law that will be enforced by the FDA. Violators can be penalized with fines, property seizure and even imprisonment.
“Our animals need the medicated feed to be healthy, therefore I am happy to help how I can,” Winter said.
“An increase in paperwork and communication with clients will definitely happen,” she added “However, this is a service I am more than willing to offer in order to keep our animals healthy.
“The only options are to obtain a VFD from your veterinarian, or not use medicated feed products.”
Focus on the end game
Kraus encourages producers to keep the end game in mind.
“For me, the big takeaway is that the animal industry is trying to be proactive and show people who might be overlooking what we’re doing that we’ve being judicious and responsible with antibiotics,” he said. “We don’t want to lose those (consumers.)”
Laurin said a disconnect exists among federal legislators and regulators in Washington regarding the desire of producers to treat their animals properly for the sake of the animals and the consumer.
“The simple thing of having the veterinary oversight in itself makes them not look so hard toward what we are doing,” Laurin said of the rules makers. “At this point, I think it’s not going to show that the (VFD) will make a dramatic change. They’re going to find that what we’re doing now will really not a huge direct effect.”
The development of the VFD has generated helpful conversations for producers and veterinarians, according to Laurin.
“Anytime you’ve been doing something for a long period of time, sometimes it’s good to step back and say is it still the same need now as it was years ago?” she said.
Laurin expressed one regret: “The bad thing is it’s a bad time in our U.S. cattle cycle, and it would have been a lot easier (to implement this) a few years ago when the economy was a lot more stable.”