The use of medications in the production of food animals is allowed under an unwritten social contract with consumers. Consumers generally trust producers and their veterinarians to do what is best for the animals and safe for the consumer. This trust, however, depends in part on the diligence of producers to work with their herd veterinarian.
Some veterinary drugs are available over the counter (OTC) at farm supply stores. This convenience and lower cost has been beneficial to producers. Prescription medications are likewise easily available through mail order catalogs. These benefits depend on a relationship with a veterinarian.
Veterinarians are increasingly refusing to write prescriptions for producers who call unless they have what is called a valid Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR), even though they may have worked together in the past. In addition, extra label drug use, such as administering a drug in a dose greater than labeled or for a disease or animal class not labeled, can only be done when determined by a veterinarian with whom the producer has a valid VCPR.
This suject is getting more scrutiny as drug use and residues in milk and meat are coming under greater examination. Veterinarians are under greater pressure due to liability in cases of residue violations.
According to the FDA, 70 percent of residue problems result when a veterinarian is not involved in the treatment decision. In many cases, these problems are a result of the use of OTC drugs.
The top reasons cited when violative residues are found all revolve around extra label use including use in a non-targeted production class, higher dose or different administration route than label, or failing to follow the withdrawal times listed.
There is no single definition of a valid VCPR but at a series of meetings on antibiotic residues put on by the Michigan State University Extension Dairy Team around the state, private practice veterinarians spoke about the issue. There may be differences by the type of animal production, but veterinarians agree that he or she has to be familiar with the management practices on the farm for there to be a VCPR.
Some veterinarians have decided that that relationship depends on their having been on the farm to see the animals in order to make a diagnosis or on going out to the farm on regular intervals to keep up with normal operating procedures on the farm. In addition, veterinarians want to sit down with the producer and develop protocols, including plans for treatments. Employees must also be trained in these protocols.
Producers vary greatly in the extent to which they work with a veterinarian. In some cases, few large animal veterinarians are available in a geographic area to service producers. In other cases, producers have begun doing more routine veterinary work themselves. However, in all cases, using a veterinarian as the herd health consultant or as one veterinarian put it, as the “science officer” for the herd is a critical part of raising food animals.
The most valuable aspect of the veterinarian is not the physical service they can perform on the animals, whether it is pregnancy diagnosis or even surgery, it is the knowledge they bring. Having a valid VCPR safeguards the food supply and helps producers be better managers of the health and wellness of herds and flocks.