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VFD to promote better management

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As of Jan. 1, beef producers must comply with a new rule regarding use of antibiotics in feed. This Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is aimed at better management of certain antibiotics considered medically important to humans, putting them under more veterinary supervision. This is part of a larger movement to minimize development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken steps to change how these antibiotics can be legally used in livestock production through addition of antibiotics to feed.

The basics

A VFD is a written statement from a licensed veterinarian authorizing the producer to purchase and use certain antimicrobial drugs in and on livestock feed. It does not apply to antimicrobial drugs injected into individual animals for treatment of disease.

Russ Daly, Extension veterinarian and professor at South Dakota State University, says the best way for producers to understand how the new VFD works is to think of it in terms of a prescription.

“For instance, if a person needs medication and goes to a doctor, the doctor fills out a form, and they take that to the pharmacy to have the prescription filled. Likewise, producers take the form from their veterinarian to the feed store or supplier, and the feed store sells them the medication for their cattle,” he explains.

The producer needs a veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) so the veterinarian can write the VFD order. This is similar to the relationship a patient has with his or her doctor. The veterinarian understands what producers are treating and why they are treating, with knowledge of the cattle.

“FDA’s intent is to add checks and balances regarding certain feed additives,” Daly explains.

Impacted drugs

Daly continues, “It is important for beef producers to know the VFD rule doesn’t affect every feed additive. Mainly we are looking at the tetracyclines – things like chlorotetracycline crumbles and oxytetracycline.”

Many medications are not affected, such as those to control bloat, parasites, etc.

“Ionophores, like lasalocid, monensin or melengestrol, are not on the list. The new directive won’t affect them. When combinations of these products are used with drugs on the VFD list, however, the VFD would be required,” says Daly.

Producers should talk with their veterinarians ahead of time to discuss the feed-grade medications they are currently using and find out which ones will be affected.

Other concerns

  “Producers need to understand that VFDs can only be written for what’s on the label of the medication. This includes feeding rate, length of time it will be fed and uses of the drug,” Daly says.

“It always has been, and continues to be, illegal to use any medication in a manner not on the label. In the past, because these drugs were available over-the-counter, there was no way to make sure these rules were being followed. Now that a veterinarian is involved and has to fill out the form, there won’t be any leeway regarding going off-label with a different dosage rate or using the drug for a disease that is not on the label,” he adds.

As a result, everyone is assured that these medications are being used in the manner they were designed for.

“Most producers and veterinarians want to show the public that the industry is using and always has used these medications in a responsible and appropriate manner. It is frustrating because there is not a lot of hard science behind these new regulations regarding how it actually affects antibiotic resistance in humans. At the same time, we want to be able to keep using these drugs to provide treatment,” he says

Coming soon

“By Jan. 1, the drug manufacturers will have labels up-to-date, reflecting FDA requirements. Anyone wishing to use those antibiotics after Jan. 1 will need to have the form,” Daly says. “That also goes for any of these drugs producers purchased earlier, still have on hand and want to use. The VFD is considered an authorization to feed that medication.”

“Many producers use feed-grade medications that may not be needed. This could be a chance to discuss their feed program with the veterinarian and maybe simplify and reduce some costs. Veterinarians can work with producers on different ways to prevent and treat diseases aside from what’s traditionally used in the feed,” explains Daly.

Heather Smith Thomas is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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