Still confused about VFDs? Panel brings clarity to new rules
By Jackie Linden
Special to Poultry Health Today
More than 1,000 representatives from the US poultry and livestock industries attended a recent webinar to get a better handle on the FDA’s new rules for the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD).
The panel acknowledged that changes in rules and regulations could sometimes lead to misunderstandings, confusion or even fear. It therefore sought to bring clarity to the situation and help key players in the VFD process — veterinarians, producers and feed mill managers — prepare for the new regulations, which kick in December 2016.
With the aim of promoting the judicious use of medically important antimicrobials in animal agriculture, FDA issued its final rule on the VFD on June 2, 2015.
Basically, it will require licensed veterinarians to be involved with on-farm usage of any in-feed antimicrobials that FDA deems medically important to humans. (For the latest list, click here.)
The new regulations will also require there to be a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) before medically important antimicrobials can be added to poultry or livestock feed. Where the state has a veterinary practice act that defines VCPR, that state regulation will govern a veterinarian’s responsibility in that state.
In effect, a VFD is comparable to a veterinary prescription for producers to obtain and use medically important antimicrobials for their animals, explained John Hallberg, DVM, PhD, director of US regulatory affairs for Zoetis Inc., which sponsored the event hosted by Vance Publishing.
The VFD also aims to phase out use of tetracyclines and other medically important antibiotics for growth promotion or feed efficiency.
Hallberg said it was important to note that several antimicrobials used by the US poultry and livestock industries — synthetic coccidiostats, ionophores, bacitracins and bambermycins — were not regarded as medically important by FDA and, as such, could be used without a VFD, provided they are not combined with medically important antibiotics. Bacitracin and bambermycins also would retain their performance claims under the new guidelines.
“All water-soluble products that contain similar medically important drugs will move from over-the-counter to veterinary prescription status,” he said. “So the FDA has put virtually all antibacterial drugs under the guidance of a veterinarian.”
Hallberg stressed “It is absolutely essential for everyone to realize that this regulation does not allow extra-label use of medicated feeds.”
Under the new FDA rules, a VFD would apply to a farm or location for up to 6 months, unless otherwise noted on the product label.
To help speed the process, VFDs may be issued electronically by the veterinarian, but records must be kept securely for 2 years by the veterinarian, feed mill and farm.
Preparing for the VFD
There is plenty of time to learn about the new requirements and prepare for the implementation between now and December 2016, Hallberg said. Even so, he urged producers to begin preparations now by talking to their veterinarian, nutritionist or animal health company representative about the possible impacts of VFD on their operations.
This is also a good time to review the MFAs they currently use to see what might be affected.
Hallberg also suggested assigning a VFD leader at each farm — someone to serve as the go-to resource. Producers also should consider how they should update or modify record-keeping procedures for recording and filing VFD documentation. It will also be important for producers to keep current on any new updates from FDA.
Paul Ruen, DVM, a practicing veterinarian in Minnesota who serves on the AVMA Steering Committee for FDA Policy on Veterinary Oversight of Antimicrobials, talked about practical applications of VFD in the field.
“Farmers and veterinarians have for long teamed up to accomplish raising healthy animals and producing safe food,” he noted. “The new VFD regulations for antibiotic use in feed will essentially document to the public how we’re already working together on this area.
He added, “Most farmers already work closely with veterinarians on health care decisions.
Still, Ruen said everyone involved with the VFD will need to do their part ensure swift treatment of sick animals while meeting new paperwork requirements.
“If we have animals that are sick, there’s always a lag time between the diagnosis of the disease or problem and then getting those animals treated,” Ruen said. “There is a risk of increasing this lag time because of the requirement for VFD.
“The closer the working relationship between the producer and the veterinarian, the better we’ll be able to adapt to the use of the VFD in order to get the right treatment to the right animals at the right time.”