CORVALLIS, Ore. – Starting in January, a new federal rule will significantly restrict the use of antibiotics in U.S. animal agriculture, limiting the use of many drugs to treating sick animals and herds at risk from infectious diseases.
This is a big change for producers of cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens, said Oregon State University livestock researcher Sergio Arispe. Up until now, he said, operators have been permitted to feed medically important antibiotics to their animals to prevent illness or promote faster growth.
The new rule bans feed companies from selling medicated feed without a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD)—in effect, a prescription from a veterinarian that specifies the disease being treated and the end date for treatment. In addition, labels on animal feed may no longer promote growth and efficiency as an approved use.
“This new rule fundamentally changes the way feed-grade antibiotics are labeled and used in livestock operations,” said Arispe, Extension professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences based in Malheur County. He is the lead author of a new, free Extension publication called The Veterinary Feed Directive: Questions and Answers for Oregon Livestock Producers (EM 9151), intended to guide livestock producers in following the stricter rule.
Antibiotics are an effective weapon against bacterial disease, Arispe noted. But because they’re used so widely in both animals and humans, some bacteria have evolved into deadly, drug-resistant super-strains. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, and 23,000 of them die from such infections.
The rule, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June 2015 and now in its final implementation phase, is the latest and toughest of the FDA regulations promoting “judicious use” of antibiotics under the 1996 Animal Drug Availability Act.
The drugs restricted by the new rule include penicillin, tetracyclines, cephalosporins, sulfas and others that are important in treating infections in people. Other classes of antibiotics that aren’t used for human treatment are not covered. These include ionophores (marketed under the trade names Rumensid, Cattlyst, Bovatec and others), bambermycin (Flavomycin) and other medicines used for both growth enhancement and treatment of animal diseases. These may still be fed to animals to promote weight gain.
Livestock growers may still use feed containing medically important antibiotics, but only to treat sick animals or prevent the spread of illness, and only under a VFD. Further, the prescribing veterinarian must be in an ongoing therapeutic relationship in which or she knows the operator and the animals and takes responsibility for the animals’ follow-up care.
The rule also requires livestock growers, feed stores and vets to keep records of all VFDs for at least two years and make them available to FDA inspectors upon request.
The new Extension publication talks about the drug restrictions in detail and helps livestock operators understand and comply with the record-keeping rules. Most important, Arispe said, it guides them in forming an effective, ongoing therapeutic relationship with a veterinarian.
“That’s the biggest change of this rule: it spells out what a working veterinarian-client-patient relationship looks like,” Arispe said. “This is something we’ve always encouraged on our livestock producers—the importance of building a relationship with your veterinarian, so he or she is truly part of your management team.”