Randy Amelsberg expects Hubbard Feeds in Bismarck, N.D. to sell 50 tons of feed crumbles containing antibiotics to retail customers and feed dealers in January. The company sells almost all of its medicated feeds from October to March.
"It's a very seasonal product," said Amelsberg, the plant manager at Hubbard Feeds.
Ranchers treat animals with medicated feeds to avoid having to run each animal through a chute and administer medication via syringe when large groups appear to need treatment.
Livestock producers always have been able to buy medicated feeds, with a few exceptions, over the counter at feed stores as needed. But that will change with the Food and Drug Administration's implementation of veterinary feed directive rules.
By Jan. 1, 2017, animal producers will have to work with a veterinarian if they want to use feeds containing medications also deemed important for use in humans. The FDA at the same time will begin prohibiting the use of such medications to enhance growth, to increase feed efficiency or for any other off-label uses.
With less than a year to go, North Dakota officials are working to make sure animal producers, feed stores and veterinarians know their roles and responsibilities in the new process.
Dave Phillips, feed specialist at the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said veterinary feed directives — commonly referred to as VFDs — are not new. Congress in 1996 passed a law setting up the process. However, the rules previously involved only a few drugs, almost none of which had practical applications in North Dakota.
The change coming next year is that the VFD system will include additional medications, including several used in the state. Phillips said impetus for the change has been the idea that livestock use of medically important antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.
Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist, called the link between livestock antibiotic use and human antibiotic resistance "extremely, extremely weak."
However, Phillips said no matter how tenuous the connection, the idea of antibiotic resistance has become a consumer-driven issue, with some fast food chains and retailers swearing off meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics.
"I think it's really in everybody's best interest to work with this program," Phillips told the Bismarck Tribune.
Stokka said VFDs will provide more accountability for the industry.
"It's not going to go away," he said.
And since it's not going away, Phillips, Stokka and others within the Agriculture Department and Extension Service are using a federal grant to prepare printed materials and educational presentations about VFDs for producers, veterinarians and feed stores.
"What we are looking to do is develop standardized informational handout material," Phillips said.
He said another plan is to hold "train the trainer" meetings, where they can get the message out to veterinarians, extension agents and others who can then pass on the information. The extension agency already has been holding meetings to let veterinarians know what's coming.
"Our goal is to get one standard message," Phillips said.
The FDA will take a look at the materials and make sure the information is correct. By preparing and sticking to a standard message, the opportunity for confusion next year should be cut down, Phillips said.
The materials and meetings also will promote discontinuing medications the appropriate number of days prior to slaughter to avoid getting medication residue in meat, Stokka said.
He said only three antibiotics that will be controlled are used by North Dakota ranchers with any regularity: the tetracycline class, the tylosin class and sulfas. One thing that might catch people off guard is that they will no longer be able to buy milk replacer with antibiotics to give to orphan calves without a VFD, Stokka said. He encourages people to consider purchasing milk replacer without antibiotics.
Stokka predicts the rule change that will prohibit antibiotics from being used to promote growth or feed efficiency won't be a burden on North Dakota producers, because those uses are rare here. A few medications that are commonly used by North Dakota producers to increase feed efficiency, namely ionophores like Bovatec or Rumensin, have no use in human medicine and will not require VFDs unless they are fed with controlled antibiotics, he said.
A pen of newly weaned calves may show signs of respiratory disease, and a rancher can buy and use medicated feed — with or without involvement of a veterinarian — under the current rules, Stokka explained.
Starting in 2017, Stokka expects a rancher will call his veterinarian about the problem, and the veterinarian will issue a VFD laying out who the producer is, how many animals will be treated and how long the animals will be treated. The VFD likely will be transmitted electronically to the producer and the feed store, and all three parties will retain copies.
Stokka doesn't expect the new system to be a hardship on veterinarians.
"It doesn't mean he or she has to run out to your place and take a look at those animals," he said.
Rather, the producer needs to have an existing relationship with the veterinarian, who will then be aware of the producer's operation, management and capabilities. A producer can have such a relationship with more than one veterinarian but would not be able to just show up at any random veterinarian's office and ask for a VFD.
"The veterinarian-client-patient relationship is at the heart of this," said State Veterinarian Susan Keller.
Amelsberg said he also has been trying to get the word out to producers and dealers who purchase at Hubbard Feeds so no one feels blindsided come January when he can't sell them a product without a VFD. Though the rules may have a small effect on business, Amelsberg expects that the new paper trail the VFDs will create will be the biggest thing for Hubbard Feeds to handle.
"I think it's going to be the obligation of the producer more than anything," he said.
Phillips expects most of the changes to go off without many problems, as long as the word gets out.
"The vast majority of our producers do a very good job with the use of these products," he said.