Revisiting the Veterinarian Feed Directive one year later

When stricter federal guidelines on the use of some antibiotics for food animals went into effect last year, producers all over the nation, including Jerry Meek in Ada, had a decision to make.

Should he spend the time and money to get a Veterinarian Feed Directive authorization from his veterinarian to continue treating his herd of about 30 cows?

Ultimately Meek decided to get the VFD authorization and his operation hasn’t missed a beat.

“Originally, when I heard about it, I thought it’s another $20 bucks I’d be spending. But, I understand where they’re coming from, if it’s something to help the market, producers and safety,” he said. “I rethought it and I appreciate they’re trying to help.”

The tightened guidelines, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2017, require producers to obtain authorization from a veterinarian to purchase medically important antibiotics, or medications important to treating human diseases, and give them to food animals through feed and drinking water.

Previously these drugs could be purchased over-the-counter, however, the FDA made the change to better track the use of antibiotics out of a concern for antimicrobial resistance.

Barry Whitworth, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension area food/animal quality and health specialist, said in the year since the new guidelines when into effect, there has been a mixed reaction from producers.

“Some people have been reluctant to switch over to the new requirements, so they’ve chosen not to use any products at this time,” he said. “Some people have gone to other means to control diseases such as using vaccinations.”

Meek said he has not had any issues with obtaining and using the VFD, which is renewable every six months. The charge for renewal varies by location.

“I’ve always used the medicated minerals and I’ve seen through the years of production a change in my animals and calving in doing it,” he said. “If it’s not broke, don’t worry about it. It’s not broke and it’s still working. I’m going to continue the same steps I’ve used.”

The impact of the stricter VFD is not yet known, however the big concern in Oklahoma is anaplasmosis, an infectious blood disease during which red blood cells are destroyed by the immune system causing cattle to become anemic.

“At this point in time, there hasn’t been any data gathered to show us that if people who are not using medicated minerals are having more problems with anaplasmosis than those who are,” Whitworth said.

Interestingly, some unanticipated positive trends have emerged from the strengthened VFD guidelines.

“People are talking to their vets more. We’re seeing better herd health management. We’re seeing people look more at vaccinations. We’re talking about biosecurity with people and controlling diseases,” Whitworth said. “There are things that have come out of this process we didn’t expect, but they are positive as far as for the producers and the health needs of the animals.”