Beef and dairy veterinarians will continue shifting toward a more consultative and less reactive role in 2019 and into the future, with consumer and regulatory trends helping drive that change.
The FDA’s Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules have been in place for two years, but impacts on the ground will continue through 2019 and beyond. The VFD rules place purchase and use of medically important feed-grade antibiotics under the oversight of veterinarians. Multiple products that producers could purchase over the counter (OTC) prior to January 1, 2017 now require a VFD order from a veterinarian. That sounds simple, but the implications reach deeply into our beef and dairy production systems.
For beef producers in particular, the impacts of the VFD rules were not necessarily evident until they completed a full year’s production cycle. For many, the stressful fall season of weaning, shipping and receiving calves has involved using medicated feeds to prevent and control disease outbreaks. Some of those producers experienced a sudden wake-up call when, first, they discovered they need a VFD to obtain products they’ve previously bought OTC. Secondly, some found their veterinarians could not legally write a VFD because the intended use did not conform to the product labels.
By law, medicated feeds cannot be used in “extra-label” applications. That was the law before the new VFD rules and it remains the law today. But when medicated feeds, particularly those containing chlortetracycline (CTC), could be purchased OTC at the local feed store, some producers became accustomed to using treatment regimens or addressing diseases outside the label specifications.
For a 2018 article in Bovine Veterinarian magazine, we asked a group of veterinarians about questions they’ve received or challenges they’ve encountered over the first full year under the new VFD rules. The most common issues involved producers who were surprised their veterinarians cannot, or will not, issue VFDs for off-label applications. Some producers also remain unclear on the difference between duration of treatment and expiration date of the VFD. A VFD drug must be fed during the time covered by the VFD. If treatment extends beyond that expiration date, a new VFD is needed.
Beyond these growing pains though, the VFD rules, and a growing emphasis on antibiotic stewardship will provide significant benefits to producers, veterinarians and consumers.
The VFD rules include a key provision with potentially long-reaching and positive results. In order for veterinarians to write VFD orders, they must have a valid Veterinarian-Client-Patient Relationship, or VCPR. The federal government and some states have legal definitions for the VCPR, but in essence, it means the veterinarian has first-hand familiarity with the producer, the operation and the animals involved.
That provision could generate the most far-reaching impacts of the VFD rules. Initially, some producers just see another expense in developing a VCPR to obtain their VFD orders. Once involved though, the veterinarian can evaluate the entire operation and potentially identify potential management changes and non-drug preventative methods for improving animal health, welfare, performance and profitability. These might include better vaccination protocols, facility designs, animal-handling practices, nutrition, genetics or biosecurity practices, all leading toward reduced reliance on antibiotics. In many cases, financial gains from these improvements could far exceed the extra vet bill.
Discussions with veterinarians over the past year indicate that along with some growing pains, the VFD rules have helped generate collaboration between veterinarians and clients in developing better disease-prevention protocols to reduce the need for antibiotics, which aligns with the goals of the regulation.
So will the rules slow the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens as the FDA intends? Maybe, or maybe not. Will they create stronger relationships between producers and veterinarians, resulting in better overall management that benefits cattle well-being, producer profits and consumer confidence? In many cases the answer is yes.