Family farms have decorated America’s landscape since the country’s founding. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 2.2 million farms in our country, 97 percent of which are operated by families. Family farming operations vary in size, and can often employ only a few farm hands. This can make management difficult at times, especially when it comes to dealing with the health of livestock.
Livestock production accounts for 1.3 billion jobs worldwide, which translates to approximately 1 in 5 people employed in some form of the industry. With the growing population, the modern livestock producer is under more pressure than ever before, including increased regulations by the USDA and the Food and Drug Administration regarding the use of antibiotics in livestock.
In June 2015, Agence France-Presse out of Washington, D.C., reported that the FDA had created a new regulation restricting the use of antibiotics in livestock. This was “in an effort to combat a growing resistance to the drugs [in humans].” The FDA’s new Veterinary Feed Directive states that “only veterinarians will now be allowed to administer antibiotics used by humans to cattle, sheep, poultry and other livestock, and only when needed for specific health reasons.”
The FDA has done many independent studies regarding the presence and growth of antimicrobial resistance in humans on a worldwide scale. They analyze the effect that antimicrobials have on the human body when given to animals before slaughter. The findings prove that it is possible that an antimicrobial resistance in humans can be linked to the misuse of the drug in livestock. This misuse has been linked to the fact that most drug administration to livestock is done by the operation manager, not a veterinarian. While drugs must be sold by a veterinarian, their administration does not necessarily need to be supervised. However, the FDA is seeking to change that.
The FDA, while working with the USDA and other government agencies, has come up with a radical plan to combat the growing resistance to antibiotics in humans across the globe. However, the details of the directive could be an issue for farmers and ranchers in America. Depending on veterinarians for antibiotics, instead of taking health matters into their own hands is going to be a hot-button topic for family farmers who have been self-sufficient for generations.
Effective Jan. 1, 2017, a new FDA regulation will go into effect. According to the National Pork Board, the Veterinary Feed Directive will lead the effort focused on eliminating the use of antibiotics, which are medically important to humans, for growth promotion in food-animal production. When the new rules take effect, the antibiotics involved will only be administered for therapeutic uses. Veterinarians will be allowed to administer these drugs to treat, control or prevent specific diseases. All over-the-counter sales of these drugs will cease when the directive takes effect.
If farmers know what drugs are being misused and what the effect on the world’s population is, they will be more likely to comply with a ruling. Instead, the FDA is jumping right into the Veterinary Feed Directive, strictly limiting farmers’ rights to maintain the health of their livestock.
On the surface, this new directive may seem like an effective way to both manage the health of livestock and combat tolerance to certain medications in humans. In fact, the ruling can and will put an enormous burden on the shoulders of family farms across America. Farmers will no longer be able to administer medications to livestock as they see fit. After January 2017, they will have to not only contact their veterinarian, but wait for him or her to arrive on site to administer the drugs. This rule could lead to an increased veterinarian bill for farmers and animal loss due to the vet’s response time.
The FDA seems to be looking only at the public health end of the spectrum. While antibiotic resistance in humans is a global issue, limiting the way livestock can get needed medication is not the answer. Education on the drugs that are in question would be a more practical tool to use before jumping to the extreme of eliminating over-the-counter availability.
With the new rules going into effect in the coming year, farmers and veterinarians are encouraged to develop a closer relationship than ever before. For the new directive to work and be successful, farmers have to be able to trust that their veterinarians are looking out for their livelihoods and the wellness of their herds.
Without that relationship foundation, farmers and their herds will suffer. Farmers are being forced to put their faith in the hands of their veterinarians, or face sanctions from the FDA and USDA. Only time will tell if this new directive is what will turn around the trend in antibiotic resistance through livestock. Until then, both farmers and veterinarians will have to be closer than ever, and depend on each other to continue the long-standing tradition of the family farm in America.