When the calendar turns in a few weeks, it will not only usher in a new year, but also tighter federal controls on the use of some antibiotics for food animals.

Stricter guidelines for the Veterinary Feed Directive go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

The VFD covers a category of drugs created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1996. Previously these drugs could be purchased over-the-counter.

As a result of changes to the rule, producers will be required to get authorization from a veterinarian to buy medically important antibiotics and administer them to food animals through feed and drinking water.

Medically important antibiotics are medications crucial to treating human diseases.

“What will change is we’ve been used to just walking in the feed store and buying these products. Now [a producer] is going to have to go to his veterinarian first so he has that document that he’s going to give to the feed store so they can sell him this product and use it,” said Dr. Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension area food animal/quality and health specialist, Southeast District.

The more stringent VFD includes any food animal species, including, but not limited to, cattle, swine and poultry.

“Any of the animals that have used these products in the past, any of these over-the-counter products such as chlortetracycline, lincomycin, there’s a whole bunch of these out there,” Whitworth said. “They’re going to have to get in touch with their veterinarian in order to continue using these products in the future.”

For a veterinarian to issue the required authorization, or prescription, there must be an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

“Very basic, but [the veterinarian] has got to make a medical judgment on these animals,” Whitworth said. “He’s going to have to have enough information to make a diagnosis and that veterinarian has to be available in case there’s an adverse drug reaction or there’s failure of therapy. That’s the basis for him being able to write this for the producers.”

The impetus for tightening the VFD is rooted in efforts by the FDA to promote more cautious use of antibiotics in food animals.

Research has linked use of antibiotics in food animals to a rise in antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in humans.

“We know this is going to be a process. There’s going to be a lot of hurdles. There are going to be many questions that come up. The FDA knows that,” said Whitworth. “As far as they’re concerned, it’s going to be mainly an educational process initially for awhile before they would ever start enforcing it from the standpoint of any type of fines or anything like that.”

For more information, visit www.fda.gov and search for “Veterinary Feed Directive” and contact the county Extension office.