The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016 and 2017 implemented restrictions on how antibiotics could be used in food-animal production. The Veterinary Feed Directive had impacts on production practices and animal-health management. Michigan State University-Extension used a nationwide survey to determine what effect the new rules had across food-animal species and farms.

Farmer input was collected in five areas.

  • antibiotic use
  • animal morbidity and mortality
  • management
  • relationship with a veterinarian
  • economics

Survey responses were collected from farmers in 48 states. The farmers produced beef, dairy, sheep, goats, swine, poultry or other minor species. While data analysis is ongoing, several consistent themes have emerged after initial review of the responses.

Unintended economic impacts have occurred on some farms because of the new regulations. That's evidenced by producer comments such as, “The biggest change has been how much I must pay the (veterinarian) for treatment of my herd. It has increased production costs. For people who actually limited antibiotic usage before the regulation the treatment hasn’t changed, just the cost.”

Animal health is another unintended consequence of directive compliance. Some producers said they’ve seen more animal sickness and limits on availability of products to treat animals. They also reported they’re frustrated with the time frame for sourcing products

“While the Veterinary Feed Directive doesn’t significantly affect my practices on a regular basis, it does limit the variety of options available to treat ailments and especially to help newborns,” one producer said. “That can be frustrating.”

Sourcing Veterinary Feed Directive-friendly businesses to support farming operations can be challenging, some producers said.

“My veterinarian refuses to write a Veterinary Feed Directive,”  one respondent said. “I have no other veterinarians in my area.”

Another producer said, “It has been difficult finding feed suppliers in my area who are willing to carry Veterinary Feed Directive products. I have had to go without or pay much higher prices because of added shipping costs and additional veterinary costs.”

Positive impacts have also resulted from the directive. The critical goal of reducing farm use of medically important antibiotics is being achieved as a result of farmers complying with its guidelines.

Sales and distribution of medically important antibiotics intended for use by livestock declined by 33 percent between 2016 and 2017, and by 43 percent since 2015, according to the FDA. The results were reported by manufacturers and distributors of the products, and are consistent with data from the Michigan State University-Extension survey results.

Communication with farm veterinarians has increased, according to survey results.  

Further research and a determination of areas that may benefit from reconsideration will be completed. Using the information gathered, Michigan State University-Extension will be able to further support the One Health antimicrobial stewardship approach. Visit extension.msu.edu for more information. 

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Philip Durst is a senior educator in dairy- and beef-cattle health and production for Michigan State University-Extension.