Starting in 2017, livestock producers will need to obtain a written order from their veterinarian before buying certain antibiotics for their animals.

In 1996, the Animal Drug Availability Act created a new category of products called veterinary feed directive (VFD) drugs. These are livestock antibacterial drugs (antibiotics) intended for use in or on animal feed.

“In other words, for animal feed containing a VFD drug to be used in animals, a licensed veterinarian first must issue an order, called a veterinary feed directive, or VFD, providing for such use,” says Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist.

The purpose of this rule is to limit the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock to those antibiotics considered necessary for assuring animal health. These drugs are for treatment, control and prevention. They are not for food production purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency.

Medically important antibiotics used in livestock include aminoglycosides (Neomycin), penicillin, lincosamides (Lincomycin), macrolides (Tylosin, Tilmicosin), sulfas and tetracyclines (chlortetracycline [Aureomycin], oxytetracycline).

“Realistically, the antibiotics of note for livestock producers would include the tetracyclines, and less so the macrolides and sulfa drugs,” Stokka notes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is implementing the VFD rule, which will go into effect on Jan 1, 2017.

“In practical terms, the VFD is a permission slip granted by your licensed veterinarian who is familiar with you and your operation; provides health, management and treatment recommendations; and knows and understands your type of operation and management capability,” Stokka says. “In addition, your veterinarian is available for diagnosis and/or follow-up in cases where response to the drug does not meet expectations or adverse reactions occur.”

This type of professional relationship is known as a valid veterinary client patient/producer relationship. In some cases, this relationship can be with a number of veterinarians in the same practice, or it may be with veterinarians from different independent practices.

In every case, the VFD must be granted prior to making any purchases of VFD drugs. The VFD order cannot be granted over the phone to the producer or the seller of the products. However, it can be transmitted electronically or via paper copy. The VFD will contain specific information:

  • Veterinarian’s name and address
  • Producer’s name and address
  • Approximate number of animals to be fed the medicated feed
  • Name of the livestock drug, the reason for the drug’s use, the dose and withdrawal time

Feed additive medications have a number of approved claims and uses; however, the use of VFD drugs does not permit any extra-label drug use. This means a product that has label claims for specific conditions, such as the prevention of respiratory disease in beef cattle, cannot be used to prevent foot rot in pasture cattle unless an approved claim for this use exists. None exists at this time.

“In addition, VFD drugs have a number of uses that may not seem obvious to producers and veterinarians,” Stokka says. “For example, some brands of calf milk replacer may contain a preventive level of a VFD drug such as chlortetracycline to prevent enteritis or calf scours. Before you can purchase this product, you will need a VFD order. Work with your veterinarian to assist in purchasing the appropriate products.”

The main impetus for these changes is the need to address the issue of humans’ increasing resistance to antibiotics used in livestock feed that are considered medically important in human medicine. These changes also provide more accountability in the use of feed additive antibiotics.

“While this connection is weak, we must all recognize that whenever antibiotics are used, whether in livestock, companion animals or people, resistance by susceptible bacterial populations is likely to occur,” Stokka says. “Interestingly, reversion to a susceptible or nonresistant state seems to take place once antibiotic use ceases. However, our stewardship responsibility is to use all of these products in a judicious manner and to demonstrate to the consuming public a greater awareness and accountability in this arena.”