If you read the popular press headlines following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement in December regarding the use of feed-grade antibiotics in food animal production, it was easy to get the notion that feed-usage antimicrobials were being all but banned.

Instead, the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) announcement preserves the use of medically important feed-grade antibiotics in food animal production for only the prevention, control and treatment of specific disease-causing bacteria. FDA is asking pharmaceutical companies to remove, voluntarily, any label indications for growth promotion.

Dee Griffin, feedlot production management veterinarian at the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center in Nebraska, uses generic tetracycline to illustrate the point. Today, the “Indications For Use” section of the label might say, “For increased rate of body weight gain and improved feed efficiency.” After a three-year transition period, because pharmaceutical companies have removed such language voluntarily — or, presumably, because of subsequent regulatory action — that won’t be allowed.

Instead, for the very same product, Griffin explains the “Indications For Use” section of the label could read: “For reduction of incidence of liver abscesses in beef cattle associated with Fusobacterium necrophorum and Arcanobacterim pyogenes.”

Mike Apley, DVM, Ph.D., and a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University, explains restricting the use of antibiotics in food animal production to assure animal health is the first principle outlined in guidance from FDA in April 2012.

That’s one reason Griffin and Del Miles, a DVM with Greeley, CO-based Veterinary Research and Consulting Services (VRCS) LLC, believe cattle producers will see little impact from the FDA announcement. Producers already use feed-grade antibiotics to prevent, treat or control specific disease-causing bacteria, rather than to enhance production, specifically.


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Moreover, some in the industry are already working to use antibiotics less. Miles says VRCS, for example, began a concerted effort three years ago to utilize management to decrease antibiotic use. It saves customers money while addressing consumer concerns. He adds that the VFD also provides the industry with further documentation of its judicious antibiotic use.

The VFD represents the second FDA principle outlined in April 2012: the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals should be limited to uses that include veterinary oversight or consultation.

“This means that the remaining uses of medically important antimicrobials in the feed and water of food animals [prevention, control and therapy] will require authorization by a veterinarian through a veterinary feed directive,” Apley explains.

“Other than the extra paperwork, I think this is a step in the right direction for the industry,” Miles says. The added paperwork is due to the VFD.