Ongoing education will be critical for livestock producers and veterinarians to adapt to upcoming changes in rules governing antibiotic use in animals. That message dominated a new report Farm Foundation presented during a summit this week in Washington, DC.

Over the summer and fall of 2015, Farm Foundation conducted a series of 12 workshops across the country to discuss the FDA’s veterinary feed directive (VFD) rules and Guidance for Industry 213. The new VFD rules will require veterinarian oversight for the use of most feed-grade antibiotics, while Guidance 213 removes label claims for animal-performance uses from medically important antibiotics by the end of this year.

The report, titled “Stewardship of Antimicrobial Drug Use in Food-Producing Animals,” details the discussions during those meetings and results of surveys Farm Foundation conducted with workshop participants.

Among the 340 participants who responded to the surveys, 25 percent were veterinarians, 19 percent were producers and 18 percent were university educators. Remaining participants included government officials, animal-health suppliers, feed suppliers, animal nutritionists and others.

When asked to rate their awareness of the changes related to Guidance 213 on a 1-to-10 scale, feed suppliers indicated the highest level of awareness with an average score of 6.67. Awareness among veterinarians averaged 6.27, while awareness among producers was lowest at 4.55.

When asked the same question about the VFD rule, feed suppliers rated their awareness at 7.53, veterinarians at 6.55 and producers at 4.5.

It is important to note that these survey results came from people who took the time to attend the workshops, and therefor were likely to have a higher-than-average level of knowledge of the issue compared with the overall population of livestock producers, veterinarians and other stakeholders.

The surveys also asked participants to rate the positive or negative impacts they believe the changes will have on the industry, and to provide comments regarding those impacts. Overall, 48.6 percent of participants believed the changes will have negative impacts on the industry, 53.6 believed the impacts will be positive and 7.8 believed they will have no impact.

Among veterinarians, 63 percent believed the changes will have positive impacts on the industry. In contrast, 68 percent of producers indicated they believe the changes will have negative impacts. On the positive side, comments focused on better stewardship of antibiotics, improved animal management and better consumer perceptions of livestock production. On the negative side, participants expressed concerns over rising production costs and loss of options for preventing disease or treating sick animals.

Over 80 percent of producers agreed or strongly agreed the rules will increase cost of veterinary care, paperwork and cost of production. Only about 30 percent of producers agreed that the rules would lead to more judicious use of antibiotics on their operations, and about 25 percent believed overall use of antibiotics on their operations would decline.

In terms of preparedness, 32 percent of producers indicated they had not taken any steps, 22 percent had talked to their veterinarians, 20 percent had done research, 15 percent had attended meetings, 6 percent had talked to their feed suppliers and 5 percent had implemented changes.

In the report, Farm Foundation notes that while much progress has been made, lack of education on the new policies and the responsibilities of the respective stakeholders is seen as a critical barrier to implementation. Awareness of the impending changes remains low, particularly among livestock producers with small- to medium-sized operations. Even many veterinarians are not aware of the their responsibilities under the revised VFD rule.

The report’s authors note that many small producers lack an established relationship with a veterinarian and may struggle to establish a veterinarian-client-patient Relationship (VCPR). In some areas, there is a shortage of veterinary services due to an overall shortage of veterinarians. The VFD rule requires, however, that a veterinarian and producer must have a valid VCPR for the veterinarian to lawfully write a VFD order allowing the producer to purchase medicated feeds. This requirement, according to the report, likely will strengthen relationships between many producers and their veterinarians. As veterinarians become more involved in farm decisions, they could see opportunities to expand their businesses. They’ll also take on increased responsibility and liability, and might need to invest more in record-keeping systems and insurance. Veterinarians will also need to develop better understanding of ration formulations and become more involved in the use of medicated feeds on their clients’ operations. Much of that responsibility currently rests with feed manufacturers or nutritionist.

On a subject related to the VCPR, the survey showed some disconnect between how veterinarians and producers perceive their relationships. Workshop participants were asked “In general, what type of service is provided by your veterinarian/to your client?” In response, 12 percent of veterinarians indicated they make all animal-health decisions, compared with 6 percent of producers who responded similarly. Fifty-seven percent of veterinarians indicated they serve as a consultative advisor on animal-health management, compared with 41 percent of producers. Among producers 37 percent said their veterinarians strictly provide clinical advice on an as-needed bases, while just 17 percent of veterinarians indicated they play that limited role.