11 October 2016

HEALTH - Veterinary Feed Directive to Control Antibiotic Use

Farmers in many fields – raising everything from cattle to chickens and even bees – are anxious to see how a new federal feed directive will impact operations.

Set to take effect January 1, 2017, the rules will make it more difficult to get antibiotics for livestock but at the same time offer veterinary supervision to hopefully limit the amount consumed by humans.

“Essentially, the directive is an attempt by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reduce the amount of antibiotics fed to animals that could potentially end up in the human food supply,” a Utah-based Daily Herald article states.

All producers raising animals for human consumption regardless of operation size must comply.

The rules will also require a relationship to be forged between livestock producers and vets when it comes to acquiring medicated food used to treat animals for illnesses including pneumonia and mastitis (an inflammation of the mammary glands which can lead to infection and see a reduction in milk production) the Herald states.

Many in the industry are scrambling to ensure those affected will be prepared when the rules take effect and not blind-sided when looking to access antibiotics for animals.

The new regulations also mean medicated feed can no longer be used to create weight gain but only for medicinal purposes – disease prevention and control.

Currently, livestock owners can get medicated food directly from a feed store but next year it will no longer be legal for them to sell medicated feed without a written directive from a vet.

Some fear that mandating an order be written by a veterinarian will be cumbersome and cause delays, of several days, in the process of getting medication to an animal.

Growing pains are anticipated.

“Most veterinarians aren’t accustomed to the dosages and feeding rates and feeding lengths of time, so there’s going to be a little bit of struggle with that,” Marty Short, general manager of the North Region Feed Mill told the Daily Herald.

According to the Centers for Disease Control at least two million people in the U.S are infected annually by bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment and more than 20,000 die from these infections.

The major push behind the directive is “to mandate judicious antibiotic use in livestock to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria.”

And there appears to be an appetite among would-be consumers to make meat antibiotic free.

A & W, for instance, heavily advertises the fact they no longer have antibiotics (nor hormones or preservatives) in their beef.

While the amount and type of hormones used in meat is closely regulated by Health Canada and the U.S Food and Drug Administration, the issue of antibiotics in farm animals' food supply has been one leading to warnings from health officials both sides of the border.

Canadian officials and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control caution the “growing use of antibiotics in farm animals' food supply is worsening the problem of antimicrobial resistance – the phenomenon of bacteria becoming immune to antibiotics,” a Huffington Post article stated.

Short says, ideally the directive will shed a positive light on the industry in the eyes of consumers.

“The whole process can be a positive for us in improving consumer perception,” he told the Daily Herald.

“Even though most of us feel these things have been judiciously used in most cases, consumers do see a need for it and we need to respond to consumer concerns and we need to take this seriously and do the best we can to comply with these rules.”

Of course, there are glitches yet to be worked out as the directive is rolled out.

Utah beekeepers, for instance, could see operations complicated given most veterinarians – required to write the directives – do not prescribe to bees, David Wilson, a dairy extension veterinarian at Utah State University told the Daily Herald.

“In order to get the antibiotic-medicated cakes, somebody's going to have to become the bee vet,” he said.

Many argue that large-scale meat production relies on antibiotics to keep animals healthy and, according to a CBS report, some studies suggest the risk to humans consuming animals who have been treated with antibiotics is extremely low.

Others contend the “overuse of antibiotics in humans – not animals – (is) causing a rise in drug-resistant bacteria,” and a 2004 study showed “the likelihood that antibiotic would not work in a human due to animal use at 1 in 82 million.”

“The problem is not an animal or human issue per se,” Dr. Tom Chiller with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CBS.

“It's about using the antibiotics as judiciously as we possibly can in situations where they are needed.”

By Nadia Moharib
Nadia is an animal lover who has adopted everything from birds to hamsters, salamanders, rabbits, fish and felines. She has written about all-things-pets for years and was a long-time editor of a pet magazine in a daily newspaper which featured a Q & A column, Ask Whit, penned by her pooch (ghost written, of course.) The serial dog owner lives in Calgary, Alberta and most days can be found at a dog park picking up after her rescue pooch, Scoots.

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