The Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) was developed to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock production, primarily to fend off antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 2 million people in the United States are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year. The concern is that extensive use of antibiotics in the food supply will increase the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria.
The VFD is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2017.
Complying With the VFD
Once the VFD goes into effect, antibiotics for use in or on livestock feed and water will no longer be available to producers over the counter. To obtain antibiotic additives, farmers will have to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian and periodically have that prescription renewed.
Any medications prescribed must be used to treat or prevent disease as directed on the label. A veterinarian may not prescribe a regulated drug for any use not specified on the label, such as to enhance performance.
Not all drugs are covered by the new VFD rules. Only antimicrobials classified as “medically important” and administered orally are regulated, and the directive only applies to food animals. A drug is classified as “medically important” if it is associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or is a medication of key importance in treating human disease, particularly food-borne disease.
Drugs covered by the VFD include:
Feed mills and any veterinarians and producers they work with can expect random inspections from the FDA to ensure compliance.
The FDA expects to handle minor or unintentional violations with warning letters. Major or flagrant violations could be met with injunctions, seizures, fines, or up to three years in prison.
Implications for Small Farmers
Small producers who rely on medicated feeds on a regular basis will no longer be able to purchase feeds containing medically important drugs. However, feed mills are already looking into formulating medicated feeds with antibiotics not classified as “medically important” and therefore not regulated by the VFD.
While most large operations already have a working relationship with a veterinarian, many small producers prefer to treat animals on their own whenever possible. This will make obtaining oral antimicrobial medications far more difficult on a small scale. While some small farmers may decide to establish a relationship with a veterinarian, they should be aware that the cost of VFD-regulated medication and medicated feeds may rise in the near future as a result of the new regulations and their associated paperwork.
Note that sending photos or videos of a sick animal to a veterinarian to receive a prescription is not considered adequate under the new VFD. The veterinarian is required to establish a relationship with both the producer and the livestock in question. A hands-on examination or a farm call is a must. The veterinarians themselves are likely to insist on this, as the VFD makes them responsible for violations. Vets would be taking a risk by prescribing antibiotics to farmers that they do not have a relationship with.
Once a producer obtains a VFD-regulated medication, he must keep the paperwork on file for at least two years, according to the new rules. These records will be necessary in case of inspection.
Of course, those who raise their livestock naturally will be minimally affected by the VFD.