The new Veterinary Feed Directive requirement has been in effect for livestock producers since Jan. 1. Producers across the country need a written VFD in place to get certain medications for their animals. So far, things seem to be going reasonably well despite the uncertainty that typically surrounds new requirements.
Russ Vering, managing partner and owner of Central Plains Milling in Howells, Neb., brings an interesting perspective to the VFD topic. He owns a feed mill that must follow the rule and is Nebraska Pork Producers president and hog owner who also has to be following the new rule. Vering feels that the new requirement is in place because of concerns about pathogens developing resistance to antibiotics also used in humans. However, it also gives pork producers an opportunity to be transparent with the public about how they take care of their animals and run their businesses.
'I think it’s a part of transparency,' he said. 'You’re seeing a lot of different groups trying to provide food in different ways and different methods, so I think the consumer wants to know where their food came from and how it was produced.'
He said the switch to the new requirement under the VFD has gone well. Vering said his business has the advantage of being automated from order entry to processing all the way through manufacturing. Because VFD is run by computers, they did have to spend some money to have a system that would manage the different VFDs for them.
'There’s accountability in the system as things are tracked from the order when it’s taken, the VFD is then matched, and the feed is manufactured according to gram level and duration of the VFD,' Vering said. 'It’s then delivered to the site, accompanied with lot numbers, tag recommendations and things like that. We’ve got that automated so it makes things easier for us.'
There are a lot of feed mills around that don’t have that kind of automation capability. That means they’ll need a lot of paper trails to be able to keep track of the entire process. Vering said that kind of paper record-keeping can make things very complicated.
Central Plains started looking at different computer programs and way to manage the system last year, although there was still a lot of interpretation of the law left yet through much of 2016. What would be required and what people would need to do and record needed to be determined as the company was conducting its system search. They made most of their decision about their process and the way they would go by the fall of last year. However, there is still some interpretation to do yet.
'I just recently had an audit at my business,' Vering said. 'There’s still some question of interpretation and different ways VFDs are filled out, or the way combination drugs are listed. It’s an on-going process.'
The audit happened in January. Vering said they did a trace back and a trace forward of feed they manufactured. They had to provide lot numbers, delivery sites, the gram level and everything that had to do with a particular VFD as it was written.
'Everything that we had received from veterinarians,' Vering said, 'it had a few mistakes and they were really gracious with us. They (the Food and Drug Administration) told us to talk to each particular veterinarian and tell them the correct way to fill out the VFD. We had everything we needed for the audit. There are just some small documentation issues that people may run into. We were totally transparent with the FDA.'
They did have a few people come in after Jan. 1 and didn’t have the proper documentation needed to get medicated feed for their animals. However, it wasn’t because they didn’t go and get a VFD, rather it was more about not knowing they needed a VFD for a particular drug.
'That’s why, with our system, I have all the VFD drugs flagged,' Vering said. 'If there’s not a VFD in our system for that producer, or anybody who walks in the door, they cannot buy a veterinary feed directive drug or antibiotic. We’re on complete lockdown.'
A VFD needs to renew every six months. Vering said pork producers have an advantage over other livestock producers based on a sow’s birthing cycle.
'If you have pigs that are assigned a VFD for a feeding period,' Vering said, 'that’s generally between four and six months. A lot of those antibiotics that require a VFD are administered within the first 2-4 months. It’s important for the public to know that we don’t administer antibiotics to market-weight hogs that are ready for harvest.'
Vering has been involved in the pork industry all his life. He owned hogs every year up until 2008 when he made the decision to go into contract finishing. His family has been in the feed business since 1976.