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If You ‘Doctor’ Livestock, a New Rule will Determine How or If You can Buy Antibiotics

An update to the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) going into effect nationally on June 12, 2023, will separate farmers with livestock into two groups – the haves and the have nots.

How so?

The updated VFD will direct who will be able to continue purchasing and using a variety of antimicrobials that are going to prescription-based use only. Antibiotics are a category of antimicrobials.

If you have a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR), you will be able to get a prescription from your veterinarian to purchase antimicrobials from them or a distributor and use them, according to the FDA.

If you don’t have a relationship with a licensed veterinarian, you won’t be able to purchase such products, many of which have long been available over-the-counter (OTC) at your local co-op and farm supply store.

What Animals, Which Products?

The updated VFD applies to all food animals, including cattle, hogs, ruminants (goats/sheep) and poultry. In addition, the update also applies to animals not intended for food, such as horses, pet rabbits, backyard chickens and even bees.

Products the VFD update applies to include injectables such as penicillin, sulfa-based drugs, boluses, intramammary mastitis tubes and some topical products. Common brand names for some of the products include LA-200, Bio-Mycin and Terramycin, among others.

All such products will be available for your use on the farm via a prescription only.

Why The Ruling Is Going Into Effect

Veterinarians are working to get the word out to farmers now to let them know this update to the VFD looms on the horizon, says Sandra Stuttgen, a veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Division of Extension.

“FDA has been working on this for actually the past 20 years, and it's part of their initiative to maintain antibiotic effectiveness through the judicious use of antimicrobials,” Stuttgen said Tuesday on AgriTalk.

FDA’s ultimate goal, she adds, is to keep antimicrobials effective for human health and prevent resistant bacteria from making them ineffective.

“Our human medical ability to handle things in the United States is fantastic. Our survival rates on cancer and (other diseases) are great until a patient gets a secondary bacterial infection and there is not a drug to treat it,” she says. “…People die or have to have extended hospital stays then, and it becomes very expensive and very emotional. It's a huge social impact.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States alone, at least 2 million people become infected annually with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. At least 23,000 people die each year as a result of these infections. The non-therapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs in animals that enter the food supply contributes to this problem, the CDC says.

A Continuation Of A Ruling

Stuttgen notes the Veterinary Feed Directive was first issued in January 2017, with many products going to prescription-based use only at that time.

“I think this (latest update) is the last part of this push, where we're going to take all the few remaining antibiotics that you can currently find in some farm supply stores, and their labels will be switched to prescription,” she notes.

Some products will remain available for purchase over-the-counter, according to University of Nebraska’s Becky Funk, DVM, and Jesse Fulton.

They say some antiparasiticides, injectable and oral nutritional supplements, oral pro/prebiotics and topical non-antibiotic treatments will not be affected and will remain available through OTC marketing channels just as before.

Next Steps To Take

If you have an existing relationship with a veterinarian, you’re unlikely to notice much of an impact on your livestock management practices.

If you don’t have a veterinarian start talking with local practitioners and establish a relationship with one now, Stuttgen encourages.

“The veterinarian gets to know you and your (animals), and you can sit down with them to write standard operating procedures and routine drug orders so you can have an inventory on your farm,” she says. “So when Sunday afternoon happens and the (animal) gets sick, you don't have to call the vet to come out, because you already have the relationship in place.”


December 14, 2022

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