Veterinary Feed Directive: What Small Farming Operations Need to Know

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Christopher Clark
Southwest Beef Field Specialist
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

chickens eatingJanuary 1, 2017 marked the beginning of a new era in animal agriculture with implementation of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) rules. The goal is to slow the development of antibiotic resistance through increased oversight and judicious use of antibiotics deemed medically important in human medicine.  Based on the rational that misuse and overuse of antibiotics can contribute to the development of resistant organisms, the FDA identified two major principles regarding antibiotic use in food-producing animals.  First, the use of medically important antibiotic drugs in food-producing animals should be limited to those uses that are necessary for assuring animal health.  And second, the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals should be limited to those uses that include veterinary oversight or consultation.

The term “medically important antibiotics” in this article refers to those antibiotics determined by the FDA to be important in human medicine.  Nearly all antibiotics approved for use in human medicine are considered medically important.  There are a few classes of antibiotics that have no therapeutic uses in human medicine and are therefore not considered medically important.  The ionophores, for example, are not used in human medicine and will not be affected by the new VFD rules.  

What does this mean for small-scale livestock producers?  First, it is important to note that the new FDA rules apply to all livestock producers, practicing veterinarians, and distributors of medicated feeds regardless of the operation size.  Small farm operators will have to comply just like larger commercial operators. 

The FDA considers the uses of feed additive and water-soluble antibiotics associated with the treatment, control, or prevention of specific diseases, to be uses that are necessary for assuring the health of food-producing animals.  The FDA, however, does not consider antibiotic use for production purposes to be necessary for assuring animal health and well-being.  With this in mind, the FDA and drug sponsors worked together to remove label indications for production purposes, such as growth promotion and improved feed efficiency, from labels of medically important antibiotics.  It is illegal to use feed additives in any manner other than described on the label, which means that it is no longer legal to use feed additive antibiotics simply for production purposes. 

In order to force greater veterinary oversight, medically important feed additive and water-soluble antibiotics are no longer available as over-the-counter (OTC) products.  As of January 1, 2017, all medically important feed additive antibiotics transitioned from OTC dispensing status to VFD dispensing status.  Additionally, all medically important water-soluble antibiotics transitioned from OTC to prescription (RX) status.  Therefore, the use of medically important antibiotics now require veterinary authorization through a written VFD for VFD drugs or through a prescription for RX drugs. 

So what exactly is a VFD?  A VFD is a written directive authorizing the use of medically important feed additive antibiotics in animals.  Functionally, a VFD works very much like a prescription.  A licensed veterinarian must authorize the antibiotic use and complete the appropriate VFD paperwork including all required information, in order for a distributor to distribute and in order for a producer to feed the antibiotic. 

Keep in mind that you must have a relationship with a veterinarian in order to obtain and use VFD drugs. 

By federal law, veterinarians cannot issue a VFD for a feed grade antibiotic without an established Veterinary Client Patient Relationship (VCPR) as described by state statutes. This means producers should communicate directly with veterinarians to establish/confirm a VCPR and to construct a plan regarding the use of feed-additive antibiotics for their operation.

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has developed a VFD resource page that is available at the Iowa Beef Center website

This resource page has numerous links to important VFD information including direct links to the FDA website.  Please consider browsing the site to learn more about the new VFD rules.  Additionally, please contact your veterinarian to learn more about how he/she will handle the VFD process and to establish/confirm a valid VCPR. 

Date of Publication: 
May, 2017