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Antibiotics and cattle ranchers, New FDA rules

Published on 11th October 2016

Cattle producers are going to have closer relationships with veterinarians when new FDA rules come into effect, A.J. Tarpoff, K-State Extension Beef Veterinarian, told a group at the Gordon Stucky ranch near Kingman last week.
 The new rules are going into effect a the beginning of 2017 to help create a paper trail for what is fed or given to cattle.
The use of antibiotics in feed for cattle has come under question by the Federal Drug Administration, because some of those antibiotics are also used on humans and that is creating concern in the health industry. Some bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics, so the FDA wants to keep a closer eye on what is put into cattle that will become part of the nation's food supply.
There are “medically important antibiotics,” and these are the things that are the target of the FDA. They want to phase out the use of these antibiotics – which are also used by humans -  for things like growth promotion and feed efficiency.  The antibiotics are to be used judiciously and only for animal health purposes, the FDA has ruled.
 Tarpoff said these are not usually used by farmers in the area for growth purposes anyway. But with the new rules that will become illegal and the antibiotics must be approved by a veterinarian for a specific medial purpose.
The “judicial use” of these antibiotics will be under the supervision of veterinarians. Ranchers will have to get a Veterinary Feed Directive, of VFD, which is a piece of paper saying the veterinarian approves of the use. What ranchers actually do is not likely to change that much, but there will be a good bit more paperwork. There may be cases where they will have to stop a certain type of feeding, but in general, there should not be major changes as far as how beef cattle are raised.
Tarpoff said the cattle industry has been “strong in making sure beef is safe.” He said the American beef produced is the safest in the world, and these new measures will increase transparency in the interest of continuing trust with the consumer.
Gordon Stucky, who hosted the event, said he has been reading about the issue for some time, and was looking forward to hearing more details about the program Tarpoff delivered.
“That seems to be the direction we are going in,” he said.
There were about 30 ranchers at the gathering, and several had questions about the program. There seemed to be no objection to the program itself.
Tarpoff later said there should not be any significant cost to the ranchers who produce cattle as they follow this directive. Many already have a relationship with a veterinarian, and that will become more important in the program.
The prescription, or VFD, will be good for six months and the ranchers will have to get a new one when they want to use antibiotics, or certain minerals, again.
There will also be spot checks by the FDA, but Tarpoff said those would be done to make sure ranchers are in compliance. He said ranchers would be told what needs to be corrected as far as record keeping if there is a problem.
“Unless you are just blatantly not obeying the rules, there should not be a problem,” he said.
Tarpoff said humans use more antibiotics than the cattle on ranches, but he said he believes it is a good program to get on board with.
Veterinarians will be more responsible for the health of the cattle, and will have to sign off on the use of these antibiotics for animal health. Veterinarians will be required to have “sufficient knowledge,” of the animals they are writing prescriptions for. This is through having some knowledge of the individual herd, and having visited the facility or ranch where the cattle are kept. The FDA said there will be a lot of different situations and at times it is not physically possible for the veterinarian to see every animal in a herd.
There may be some complicated issues, such as when ranchers ship their cattle to graze in another state. The VFD has to be written by a veterinarian licensed in the state where the animal is at the time. Some veterinarians are licensed in more than one state, so it may take some coordination there.
The veterinarian also needs to be familiar with the operation, and is responsible for the medical judgment and approving of the use of the antibiotic. In most cases the veterinarian must have visited the operation. The owner has to agree and follow the recommendations of the veterinarian.
Some of this paperwork may be done online, which will make it simpler. The rancher will have to keep a hard copy for two years, but Tarpoff said an email is a hard copy.
“We just all have to work together. This is doable but it may take a little time,” he said.
This actually includes all antimicrobial drugs, which includes antibiotics. The ones that are considered “medically important” are those that are used on both humans and animals. Since both are ingesting these, it leads to bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics, which could eventually be a global health issue, the FDA says.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control, says as many as 2 million people get infected each year with bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics, and it is estimated that 23,000 die from this condition. Scientists believe the use of antimicrobial drugs in animals that are part of the food supply contributes significantly to this problem, but they are not saying cattle are the main culprit.
Tarpoff said there will also be ways to submit reports and information electronically, and that should make it easier.
The rules take effect on Jan. 1, 2017, but ranches may apply for their VFD's with their veterinarians before then.