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VFD update on the horizon

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has slated the implementation of a new veterinary feed directive (VFD), which will go into effect June 11, 2023. 

This updated VFD is the final wave of a 20-year effort to maintain the effectiveness and judicious use of antimicrobials in the livestock industry and will require a veterinarian-ordered prescription of all antimicrobials, including antibiotics, currently found over-the-counter (OTC).

During an AgriTalk podcast episode released Dec. 13, Host Davis Michaelson sits down with Dr. Sandra Stuttgen, a veterinarian and associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, to discuss the coming VFD update.

“FDA has been working on this for the past 20 years. It is part of their initiative to push for the judicious use of antimicrobials in the veterinary community and the human medical community,” explains Stuttgen. “The original VFD was issued in January 2017, and this is the last part of the initiative. We are planning on taking all of the remaining antibiotics currently found OTC and switching their labels so they can only be purchased under the order of a licensed veterinarian.” 

Animals and products 

According to Stuttgen, the updated VFD will apply to all food animals including cattle, hogs, sheep, goats and poultry as well as non-food animals including horses, pet rabbits, backyard chickens and bees.

Michaelson points out a lot of products included in the new VFD  are very common in livestock production and have generally been widely available and easy to obtain. 

“Penicillin is one of the oldest standard antibiotics and has been highly overused for years,” Stuttgen comments. “In fact, back in the 90s, we were already seeing penicillin resistance, and veterinarians at the time were given the option for extra-label use to use higher dosages to make it work.” 

“During this time, we also started getting some newer antimicrobial products, labeled as prescription only, in hopes they would be used more correctly, and we wouldn’t end up with resistance,” she adds.

Additional products included in the VFD update include injectables such as penicillin, sulfa-based drugs, boluses, intramammary mastitis tubes and some topical products. Common brand names for some of these products include LA-200, Bio-Mycin and Terramycin, among many others.

In a Farm Journal article written by Rhonda Brooks, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Associate Professor of Practice Dr. Becky Funk and UNL Extension Educator Jesse Fulton note some products will still remain available for OTC purchase. These include some antiparasiticides, injectable and oral nutritional supplements, oral pro and prebiotics and topical non-antibiotic treatments.

VFD goals

Stuttgen explains the ultimate goal of the FDA’s initiative is to keep antimicrobials effective for human health and prevent resistant bacteria from making them ineffective. 

Although animal health is important, Stuttgen notes human health is the paramount priority.

“Resistant bacteria that adapt and survive in an animal used for eggs, meat, milk or honey can be ingested by humans and could have an impact on intestinal health. Human gut health is very important to our immune system,” she explains.

“There is another problem with resistant bacteria,” Stuttgen adds. “Our human medical ability to handle things in the U.S. is fantastic. Our survival rates on cancer and other diseases are great until a patient gets a secondary bacterial infection, and there is not a drug to treat it. People die or have to have extended hospital stays, and it becomes very expensive and very emotional.”

Brooks provides Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics in her article, noting in the U.S. alone at least two million people become infected annually with bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At least 23,000 people die each year as a result of these infections. 

“The non-therapeutic use of antimicrobial drugs in animals entering the food supply contributes to this problem,” the CDC says.

Producer and veterinarian relationships

Producers who have an existing relationship with their veterinarians will likely have an easier transition following the implementation of the new VFD and won’t notice much of an impact on their livestock management practices, Stuttgen predicts. 

However, for producers who do not have a working relationship with a local practitioner, Stuttgen encourages them to establish one immediately. 

“Veterinarians get to know producers and their animals. They can sit down with them to write standard operating procedures and routine drug orders so they can have an inventory on the operation,” she says. “When Sunday afternoon rolls around and an animal gets sick, producers don’t have to call their vet to come out, because the relationship is already in place.”

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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