The Future of Antibiotic Use in the Livestock Industry

Blue pill container spilled icon antibiotic use livestock July 1, 2016
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By Dr. Aimee Hafla, Ph.D., P.A.S.

January 1, 2017 marks a turning point for the U.S. livestock industry regarding the acquisition and handling of antibiotics used in feed and water. Amendments to the existing Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) will require veterinarian oversight of many commonly used antibiotics that have previously been available over-the-counter and the withdrawal of “production use” labeling from many of these antibiotics.

What is the VFD?
We typically think of two categories for both human and animal drugs: over-the-counter and prescription. However, in 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added VFD drugs as a third category for animal drugs. In June 2015, significant amendments were published to the VFD by the FDA to address public concern about the overuse of antibiotics in the livestock industry.

VFD_Figure 1_July2016In 2011, the FDA reported that 61% of the antimicrobial drugs marketed for animals were considered “medically important” to human medical therapy. Of the “medically important” antibiotics used in animals, 72% were administered through feed and 21% through water (Figure 1). Since feed and water use of antibiotics represent such a large segment of drug use in livestock production systems, and many of those antibiotics are over-the-counter, the FDA moved to bring these drugs under veterinary oversight. The FDA and participating members of industry have recognized that maintaining the availability of antibiotics is essential to animal health in modern production systems. It is important to keep in mind that producers will not be losing these antibiotics, but the way they will be used will change.

The amendments to the VFD rule include three significant changes that will take effect Jan 1, 2017.
1) Feed use antibiotics deemed “medically important” to human medicine by the FDA, previously available over-the-counter, will require a VFD. Water use antibiotics that are “medically important” will require a prescription.
2) To obtain a VFD drug from a feed manufacturer, feed store, or mill, a valid VFD order will be required and must be completed by a veterinarian.
3) To align with the FDA’s goal of eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics for production purposes, drug sponsors will voluntarily withdraw “production use” statements (i.e., growth promotion and feed efficiency) from drug labels and only allow use for specific animal health purposes (treatment, control, and prevention of illness). These label changes will be in place by December 2016.

What drugs will be affected by this rule?
The VFD rule focuses on medically important antibiotics administered via feed and will not impact how all medications are obtained and handled. For example, Ionophores (i.e., Rumensin, Bovatec) are not currently considered medically important, and therefore will not require a VFD. Furthermore, current over-the-counter injectable antibiotics will not be impacted by this rule and producers will still be able to obtain them as before. (See Table 1 on Reverse).

How will I obtain medicated feed?
The acquisition and use of a VFD feed will require the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, with whom the producer has a valid “veterinary-client-patient-relationship”. This means the veterinarian should be familiar with the producer’s health protocols, livestock, and facilities. It is possible that requesting a VFD order will require an on sight visit from the veterinarian. However, there may be cases where the producer and staff have been trained by their veterinarian to evaluate key diagnostic signs of an illness, in which case no site visit may be necessary. The veterinarian will then fill out the VFD order to completion and provide a signed copy to the client and feed distributor. It is necessary that the veterinarian, client, and feed distributor keep their copy of the VFD order on file for a minimum of 2 years. Finally, the veterinarian must be licensed to practice in the state where the animals listed on the VFD reside.

Producers can do a few things to prepare for these upcoming changes.
Evaluate and take stock of the drugs you currently use. Will any require a VFD? Are there possible alternatives?
Develop/Strengthen your vet-client-patient relationship. Your veterinarian must be familiar with your animals, facilities, and health protocols. Get the proper training to diagnose disease symptoms, if necessary.
Communicate with your nutritionist and feed mill/medication distributor. Ask your feed distributor if they will continue to carry drugs that require a VFD after the implementation date.
Confirm that you have good record keeping practices for all drug use on your farm.

What about alternative technologies?
As the livestock industry adjusts to this new regulatory environment with an emphasis on reducing and refining the use of antibiotics, producers may explore alternative technologies that promote animal health and defend against pathogens. Tri-Lution® is a patented source of live (viable) naturally occurring microorganisms, including yeast, lactic acid producing bacteria, and prebiotic nutrients. The gut of ruminants is an immunologically active organ system which is exposed to a mass of endogenous and exogenous stimuli. With 70% of all immune cells located in the gut, it is the first line of defense against foreign pathogens. Therefore, cultivating the health of the rumen and intestinal environment may serve to improve overall animal health.

Research conducted by Agri-King found supplementation with Tri-Lution®:
Increased concentrations of immunoglobulin A (IgA) in milk from lactating dairy cows (resulting in better quality colostrum)1
Reduced somatic cell count in lactating dairy cows2
Increased pig survivability and sow performance when sows were challenged with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS)3
Reduced prevalence of E. coli 0157:h7 positive feedlot cattle and reduced counts of salmonella in manure of feedlot cattle

Clients using Tri-Lution® have observed:
Lower morbidity, when used in all species
Greater resistance to stressful events in all species
Increased appetite in naive cattle
Reduced reliance on antibiotics in all species

Tri-Lution® is the natural way to promote improved animal health and to help livestock cope with the stress of production, reproduction, and other challenges. AK

1 Agri-King Research Bullet #26 2; Agri-King Research Bullet #25 3; Agri-King Research Bullet #27