FDA issues new restrictions on antibiotics
By JOLENE STEVENS
MERRILL – As livestock producers gear up for the implementation of new Environmental Protection Agency directives on livestock and poultry producer use of animal antibiotics, veterinarians are finding themselves a significant part of the overall picture.
Dr. James Pettigrew, an animal science professor at the University of Illinois, was among those finding himself upfront last week when the university hosted a Jan. 28 webinar to discuss what EPA’s new guidelines “do and don’t mean,” in responsibilities of enforcing the new rules.
“Professional veterinarians,” Pettigrew said, “are definitely at the center of the picture. I think a lot of producers will find themselves doing things differently and relying on their veterinarians in setting the antibiotic usage.
“Yes, it’s challenging for the overall industry, but it’s not a disaster (and) it won’t destroy the industry.”
The EPA’s latest move did not, Pettigrew said, come as a surprise, but something anticipated for several months as the agency addressed the limited animal antibiotics also considered important to human health and only those used in animal feed or drinking water.
The core of EPA’s approach, he said, follows its acknowledgment that disease prevention is “specifically recognized” as an approved “judicious” use of the antibiotics, while at the same time prohibiting the antibiotics’ use for production purposes – improved growth rate or feed efficiency – and calling for all uses of the antibiotics subject to veterinary oversight.
The agency had earlier cited its move as an approach to address the controversy of antimicrobial resistance in human medicine.
The impact of the guidelines’ is expected to be varied among meat animal producers.
Craig and Nancy Anderson, 40-year cattle producers, said they expect little or no impact in the operation of their 2,500-head one-time capacity cattle feeding operation near Merrill.
“We’ve always had a really close working relationship with a licensed veterinarian employed to help us with our vaccination program,” Anderson said. “While we do 90 percent of our sick animal treating ourselves, we always do it with veterinarian oversight.
“We’ve never been on a continuous antibiotics program in our feed yards, and we’ve also been cautious on our feeding of antibiotics.”
If they find a need to use antibiotics, he said, the policy is to feed them only for three to five days.
“We’ve a program that’s already adapted to what’s now going to be the standard,” Anderson said, “and I think we’re going to be fine with the new guidelines.
“Our situation here will be perhaps a little easier for us to handle than for the pork, chicken or turkey industries.”
Health problems, he said, may be more critical for these producers since their livestock congregate.
Anderson said larger cattle producers can be hit hard by EPA’s new program. For instance, he said, if he “has twice as many animals, there can be five times as many problems.”
On the other hand, the smaller producer can quarantine animals easier, halting animal traffic, making it easier to stop diseases from spreading.
He added, however, for those without an oversight veterinarian in place additional management adjustment may be needed and with added costs.
Nancy Anderson, who takes an active role in the cattle operation, suggests that the smaller producer may have difficulty obtaining antibiotics program information, if he or she has not been used to doing so.
It’s important for everyone, she said, not using antibiotics as a substitute for good management.
“We’re going to have to learn to be more regulated,” Anderson said, “and need more documentation as this occurs.”
Consumers with awareness and those concerned on the antibiotics-human health issue will see the action as a step in the right direction.
“Prior planning is going to be important as we lose over-the-counter usage of these (animal) antibiotics,” said Dr. Grant Dewell, an Iowa State University Extension veterinarian. “It’s not going to be so simple to just add to ration in the future. To keep all the veterinary feed directives updated is going to require regular review.”
Proper use of the antibiotics is the goal of FDA with these rule changes, Dewell said.
“Hopefully, we will see some reduction in the use of antibiotics in situations where they are fed just because we always have,” he said. “The extra steps involved with this new process will at least have us stop and think about if the situation really requires antibiotics.”
Dewell said he doesn’t foresee a major impact on cattle producers in their learning to accept the new restrictions.
Most of the antibiotics used for feed efficiency, he said, have both a production and treatment label.
This means that when the production label is removed, the label identifying treatment purposes will still be intact.
He explained the impact may be greater for swine and poultry producers, due to some antibiotics bearing only a production label which lists some treatment benefits.
In this case, he said, the loss of a production label may make it too prohibitive to try to obtain new approval for a treatment purpose.
“There is definitely going to be a learning curve, however, as veterinarians and producers try to implement these new restrictions,” Dewell said. “We really need to see how FDA is going to modify the rules regarding VFDs. The current rules are too burdensome to be applied across all of the feed medications we now have.”
Producers and veterinarians are invested in animal agriculture, he said, and will work together to meet new demands from government, retailers and consumers.
“Most things that come from Washington,” Dewell said, “require producers and veterinarians to learn to adapt to the new rules.
“We do have some time to implement the new procedures so although there has been a lot of talk recently we will not see any major implementation for some time.”
He added that pharmaceutical companies were notified of the rule change in December and have three months to notify FDA of their plans to implement them within three years.
Publication of the new veterinary feed directives, he said, are expected “at the earliest” next fall.
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