Changes to VFD rules intended to strengthen relationship between producers and vets

We all know doctors must write prescriptions before we can purchase antibiotics for human use, but even animals need similar documentation. For them, it’s called a veterinary feed directive, or VFD.

This past January the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised the regulations for antibiotics farmers use to treat their animals. These changes require producers to obtain a VFD for certain drugs. A VFD specifies what animal takes the medicine, how much of it, for how long, and any other FDA approved directions. Over the years, the rules for a VFD have changed as the animal agriculture industry has developed.

“The VFD is definitely more regulated, but so far I have not heard of anyone being audited,” said Babby Williams, manager of procurement and inventory control at Monroe City Veterinary Clinic. Williams is also responsible for creating VFD statements for the veterinarians at the clinic.

Williams said feed mills used to have farmers bring in the VFD statement, but now the feed mills call the veterinarians instead. This simplifies the process and creates better communication between the feed mill and the veterinarian.

The main reason for implementation of the VFD was to improve food safety for consumers, animal health, and animal welfare. The first VFD rule started in 1996 when Congress passed the Animal Drug Availability Act to regulate new drugs and medicated feed. The FDA also wanted more laws on drugs to prevent bacterial resistance to medicine. This rule prevents VFD regulated drugs from being misused or used for inappropriate reasons. The FDA revised the rule in 2000, and again in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015 to fit the farmers’ and consumers’ needs.

On Jan. 1, 2017, a new VFD rule made all medicated feed that was over-the-counter (OTC) regulated by the VFD. During the previous decade, only a few drugs were regulated by the VFD rule.

With all of these changes on the VFD, farmers have encountered a few problems. David Ketsenburg of Monroe City, Missouri, has been raising cows and hogs since he was 9, and has experienced these changes firsthand. He currently owns approximately 100 cows and calves and 600 pigs farrow to finish in a partnership with Todd Hays, also from Monroe City. Ketsenburg has been following protocols for years and feels like the VFD rule is just an extra step in that protocol.

“I understand it,” Ketsenburg said. “It’s just a little frustrating now and a little time consuming. I might need a drug right away but have to wait three hours or so to get it, and an animal could die.”

The VFD regulations can be challenging for farmers to keep up with, as they change frequently and the list of drugs on the list gets longer. Farmers who aren’t aware of the latest changes, may find they have to wait longer than expected to obtain a medication. Veterinarians recommend keeping up to date on the rules to avoid this problem.

The VFD ensures there is a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, or VCPR. With a VCPR, every time a farmer has a problem with an animal, the farmer must be in contact with the veterinarian.

“This requires us to have a relationship with the farmer,” said Dr. Imogene Hemeyer, DVM. “If they have an issue they have to call us.” 

This means the farmer must stay in contact with the veterinarian throughout the medication process and also requires a follow up. 

“To enforce the VFD, the FDA plans to use a phased strategy to enforce the legal requirements,” according to Juli Putnam, press officer of Media Affairs for the USDA.

The phased strategy includes the FDA educating veterinarians, farmers, distributers of the medicine affected, and anyone else the final rule may concern. Putnam said the FDA is also trying to work with everyone involved in these changes to encourage compliance and understanding. The FDA will conduct risk-based inspections and review drug distribution records and filing of VFD orders for two years from both clinics and farmers. This strategy may change depending on how the FDA and state boards of veterinary medicine decide to enforce the VFD rule.

“Implementation has been relatively smooth overall and FDA continues to work with affected stakeholders to resolve remaining issues,” Putnam said.

For more information, visit the FDA website.