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An Op-Ed on Veterinary Feed Directives


By Heather Reist from LMU

One of the important issues commonly discussed in the veterinary, governmental, and human medicine fields is the concept, “One Health.” One Health discusses the direct health connection between humans, animals, and their environment. Veterinarians, government officials, physicians, and ecologists have been discussing the effects of disease spread between each of these fields. Zoonotic diseases are disease that are spread from animals to humans. Because of the close contact between humans and animals, unfortunately, zoonoses can be spread very easily and be extremely harmful. Many of infections and disease are treated with antibiotics. However, if used too often, humans and animals can build up a resistance to these treatments. To prevent further antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance, the FDA has created a new law that impacts producers and the food animal industry. 

Prior to January 1, 2017, food animal producers used to prevent and treat diseases of all animals in the herd using antibiotics in feed and/or water. Even if the animal did not show signs of the infection, it still was able to receive treatment given in the feed. These drugs were often used to promote growth and increase feed efficiency. They could be obtained “over the counter” and at local feed mills. However, it was noticed that antibiotics, even if not given after the withdrawal time, affected human health. When an animal is given an antibiotic, it kills the bad bacterial, but the resistant bacterial survive and reproduce. The resistant bacterial is in the meat and then can spread to humans by the consumption of meat products, through contaminated soil and water, or through handling feces. Eventually, the resistant bacteria are found in humans and the human gets sick. Antibiotics used in human medicine do not cure these infections because the bacteria is already resistant. 

To reduce the amount of resistant bacteria in the environment, the FDA decided to create VFDs, veterinary feed directives. VFDs eliminate the need to use antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency. They only can be obtained through a licensed veterinarian. Therefore, producers will not be able to obtain these new prescribed drugs without consulting the veterinarian and filling out paperwork. The producer will also have to have a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) in order to be prescribed the feed antibiotic. This will be a temporary inconvenience for food animal producers and the industry, but it will overall help reduce resistance to antibiotics. 

Unfortunately, the VFD will probably cost the producer more in the long run. He will have added veterinary bills, due to having a vet prescribe the feed additive, and his livestock will not be as “feed efficient” due to the lack of antibiotic. Since these drugs were used to promote growth and increase feed efficiency, the producer will have to spend more money feeding his livestock and getting them to market weight. Instead of buying one feed composition, he may have to get more than one if one of the animals needs the antibiotic. It will also be harder to separate the specific animal from the herd when feeding. 

Consumers will most likely have a positive view on veterinary feed directives. Since it impacts their health as well, they will be in favor of preventing antimicrobial resistance. As time goes on, it will probably be determined that it is saving lives of thousands of humans. However, since the cost of production may slightly increase, the cost of meat and products may also increase. The safety of the human population will certainly outweigh the costs. 

Overall, due to the new VFD regulation, antibiotics in feed are now being used with caution and can only be prescribed by a veterinarian. To prevent antibiotic resistance in animals and humans, the VFD will prevent producers from using the drugs to promote growth and increase feed efficiency. Although this could potentially decrease production and/or increase the cost of production, it will overall have a positive affect for consumers. One Health is so important because it connects animal industry to humans and the environment. It is necessary to keep in mind how animals affect humans and vise versa.


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