ABC's of the VFD – What does it mean for antibiotics in your food?

January 03, 2017

vet with pigs

There are many factors involved in responsibly raising food animals: proper nutrition and comfortable housing, daily attention to individual animals’ needs and the appropriate use of medications and antibiotics when needed. Recently, there’s been a lot of attention on farm antibiotic use and the connection to antibiotic resistance. It’s a topic that will continue to be a concern, which is why we should be focused on best ways to judiciously use the tools we have.

As a veterinarian, however, I know that animals do get sick, and I see the need for antibiotics. And, as someone keenly interested in the welfare of animals, I would say it’s absolutely inhumane to not have them available.
 
But in an effort toward continuous improvement, as of January 1, another layer of oversight has been added to the agriculture industry’s use of antibiotics through the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which was created by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). The VFD does two big things: 

  1. All growth-promoting antibiotics that are medically important to humans are now illegal to use.
  2. All antibiotics that are considered medically important can only be used in feed with a prescription.
So what’s the impact and what does it mean? Before, farmers – who in my opinion have a very good understanding of the animals they raise – had the ability to purchase some feed with small amounts of antibiotics included in it (similar to over-the-counter medications we buy) to prevent an illness or disease outbreak within the herd.
 
Now, the VFD promotes a closer relationship between the farmer and the veterinarian because a prescription is needed for those same over-the-counter medications. By forming this closer farmer-vet relationship, veterinarians will spend more time on the farm, gain a better understanding of the health and disease challenges of that farm and together with the farmer determine the right solution to a problem.  
 
From my perspective, a lot of our farmers were already going above and beyond the minimum requirements. We’re at these farms every month, and sometimes even more. On the other hand, some of our farms that we hadn’t been meeting with as often will now need to engage with us multiple times a year.
 
At the end of the day, there’s value in the VFD. It will show us how to better use the antibiotics that we do have. And maybe, in certain circumstances, it’ll show us that we don’t need the level of antibiotics that we had been using.

 

Wesley Lyons, DVM

Dr. Wesley Lyons is currently a veterinarian at Bethany Swine Health Services in Sycamore, IL. He started in mixed animal practice for a few months with his father, Dr. Chuck Lyons, before joining Pig Improvement Company as a Health Assurance Veterinarian.

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