In 1996, the Animal Drug Availability Act (ADAA) was signed into law to provide flexibility for the way the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates animal drugs and medicated feeds. This was enacted to increase the number of approved animal drugs on the market, and it created a new category of drugs used in animal feed referred to as veterinary feed directive drugs (VFD drugs).

Under the 1996 ADAA, VFD drugs did not require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian for use. However, this recently changed on Oct. 1, 2015 when the FDA implemented a new rule that expands and further regulates the use of what they refer to as drugs that are “medically important” feed grade antibiotics.

This rule immediately takes effect for three VFD drugs: Avilamycin, Florfenicol and Tilmicosin. Only Tilmicosin is used as a feed-grade drug in cattle. By Jan. 1, 2017, the list of VFD drugs will expand to include all medically important antibiotics used in feed and water for disease prevention, control and treatment.

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) believes this is another example of the federal government expanding their authority and attempting to regulate ranchers out of business. They are accomplishing this by requiring producers to receive a VFD form, similar to a prescription, from a licensed veterinarian before they can acquire and use antimicrobial drugs in feed or water.

A veterinarian must fill out the VFD form specifying the ranch, group of animals to be treated, drug to be used, feeding rate and the duration of the treatment for the cattle. Additional time and increased costs for cattlemen and women are the only result of these regulations.

Further, an unrealistic amount of detailed forms and records must be retained for a minimum of two years by the veterinarian, rancher and feed mill or distributor. This amount of paperwork is unnecessary and arduous just to receive a drug ranchers have used appropriately for years to care for their cattle.

The new VFD rule also requires veterinarians to follow what the FDA refers to as state defined veterinarian-client-patient relationships (VCPR). In states where the FDA determines no applicable or appropriate state VCPR requirements exist, veterinarians are required to issue VFDs in compliance with federally defined VCPR requirements. Texas and Oklahoma already have state VCPR requirements in place; however, the FDA is overlooking the fact that ranchers already have good working relationships with their local veterinarians.

The VFD rule is part of FDA’s strategy to promote the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. The Administration believes antibiotics are causing resistance in humans who consume beef products; however they have continuously failed to back this claim with proper peer-reviewed sound science.

While the rule is not expected to be in full effect until 2017, TSCRA recommends that cattle producers contact their veterinarians to discuss how it could affect them in their daily operations.

American ranchers have proved they are the best caretakers of their cattle, and they have continuously provided a safe, healthy and abundant supply of beef worldwide. They have been able to do this by working with their veterinarians and by using antibiotics judiciously to treat sick cattle and maintain healthy herds. The federal government needs to realize that at the end of the day these regulations are actually jeopardizing animal health.

TSCRA will continue to work with industry organizations and government officials to ensure cattle raisers’ access and ability to use important animal drugs to care for their cattle are retained. TSCRA will also keep its members informed as the VFD rule continues being implemented throughout the U.S.

Ty Keeling is a Boerne, Texas cattle rancher, and he has been the vice chair of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) Animal Health Committee since 2013.