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What does the new federal veterinary feed directive that's set to take effect Jan. 1, 2017 look like 10 months before the fact to the front line parties who will be affected?

That was one of the questions pondered during a panel discussion at the Extension Service's recent seminar on raising quality dairy heifers. Panel members were veterinarian Kelly Peters of the Countryside Clinic in Outagamie County, Amy Shiplett of the family operated Bon-Home Livestock farm in Calumet County and Vita Plus Feeds vice-president Allan Schultz.

'Not on our radar'

'This is something new for us. Feed is not on our radar,' Peters remarked in referring to the upcoming requirement that veterinarians must authorize the use of animal feeds containing antibiotics that are also approved for treating humans.

Peters is most concerned about reaching the livestock producers who are accustomed to buying such feeds from commercial suppliers and who do not have the working relationship with a veterinarian that they will need in order to continue obtaining those products. He mentioned the necessity of breaking habits, informing those being affected, and setting up the logistics for the new arrangement.

In replying to a question by panel moderator Sarah Mills-Lloyd, who is the Extension Service agriculture agent in Oconto County, Peters said he was also concerned about the timetable for making the necessary changes. He was hoping that the logistics would be clear by no later than September or October.

Product re-evaluation

For Bon-Home Livestock, which custom raises dairy calves and heifers in facilities with a capacity of 1,300 head, the VFD protocol has prompted product research and re-evaluation, Shiplett said. She was wondering who is responsible for compliance when animals move from site to site.

'It's a good thing in some ways,' she said. She The medicated feeds that will be governed by VFD have been used as 'a crutch' to prevent the possible health problems that could erupt when calves from several sources were co-mingled. She also noted that similar restrictive practices are already in place in the hog industry.

Educational efforts

As a feed supplier, Vita Plus is addressing the VFD protocols at information meetings, Schultz reported. He indicated that he has written an article for publication in Hoard's Dairyman and that a VFD Central website is another information source.

Regarding the timetable, Schultz said safeguards are in place for such changes as labeling so that suppliers and manufacturers won't be trying to gain an unfair advantage. He predicted that December will be an active time for managing the changeover. One earlier deadline requires suppliers to provide revised labeling information to the Center for Veterinary Medicine by no later than June.

The complexities accompanying VFD are likely to be a challenge, Schultz said. He pointed out that the effects of the new protocol will differ for beef cattle, poultry and swine.

All livestock producers who purchase medicated feeds which are governed by the VFD must establish a valid client patient relationship with a veterinarian, Schultz emphasized. If they don't already have a recordkeeping system, they must create one.

Compliance rationale

Rather than complaining about the challenge of change, Peters called on livestock producers to find other ways to address the health problems that they're hoping to prevent with the use of feeds medicated with antibiotics. There will be no more 'wink, wink,' he promised.

This directive from the federal Food and Drug Administration should not be viewed as 'a caving in to the activists,' Peters stressed. He predicted that VFD would also present a better image of the livestock sector to consumers.

Peters also cited the possibility of substituting probiotics and new byproducts for antibiotics. Schultz stated that vendors have begun to look for new products. It's possible that the market might disappear for medicated milk replacers.

Enforcement procedures

With veterinarians, product suppliers and livestock producers all being required to keep a record of the VFD authorizations and transactions, all three parties could be cited for violations. Schultz suggested that federal and state feed inspectors would visit the feed supplier first in the case of a suspected violation.

If that proves to be true, a warning letter from the FDA would follow, according to Dick Wallace, a senior veterinarian with Zoetis. Following the response by the notified party, 'cease and desist' and 'no shipping' orders could be the next step, he pointed out.

Wallace warned that violations of the VFD are most likely to show up first in bob veal calves.

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