Veterinary Feed Directive: A year in review

9/18/2018

New Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulations were implemented on Jan. 1, 2017, by the FDA and required producers to get authorization from a veterinarian before purchasing and administering antibiotics that can also be used to treat human diseases for livestock.

These regulations were adopted based on concerns about a heightened level of microbial resistance towards commonly used antibiotics, but did raise some concerns for New York’s 4,400 dairy farms. Farmers, veterinarians and feed mill operators faced potential changes in the way in which they managed their businesses, with some uncertainty about impacts on their bottom line. Potential concerns included:

  1. Costly management or infrastructure changes to improve herd health, such as upgrades to heifer housing
  2. Increased time spent on paperwork
  3. Increased costs and time for working with veterinarians
  4. Timely availability of critical medications

While the overall economic impact of VFD guidelines appears to have been minimal or small for most New York dairy farms, the transition was not entirely seamless. By far the largest issue experienced was timely access to antibiotic medication needed to treat illness.

In an effort to better understand the immediate economic effects of the VFD on New York dairy farms, a team of farm management and veterinary faculty and educators working with Cornell Cooperative Extension conducted a number of interviews with dairy farmers before the VFD went into effect and again a year later. We also discussed VFD implementation with several veterinarians and feed mill operators. Our reflections are also based on regular contact with farm operators and service providers as a part of ongoing extension programs that support dairy farms throughout New York.

Change in management practices

No farms in our study or that we work with have reported costly management upgrades, such as calf housing refurbishment, due to the VFD. While many farms reported no management changes, other farms made small changes. This included using a vaccine in place of a VFD-regulated drug and using antibiotics less often and in smaller quantities. Generally, farms did not perceive higher incidence of health issues, although for some health issues, it was difficult to attribute any change for VFD. For example, some farms experienced weather-related respiratory issues in calves in 2017. One farm did report a case of higher disease incidence due to VFD-related changes. While there have been reports of farms that do not work with a veterinarian being negatively affected by the VFD rule changes, despite extensive effort we were not able to locate such a farm to interview. We believe farms that do not work with a veterinarian are not representative of the New York dairy industry.

Time spent on paperwork

The typical response to time spent on paperwork for VFD was either no additional time or a small amount of additional time. For farms already working with a veterinarian, VFD-mandated paperwork was considered to largely be within the scope of veterinary-recommended “good record-keeping practices.” It is, however, important to note that farmers already have a variety of reporting and record-keeping requirements that do necessitate substantial time. For example, the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program is being implemented on the majority of New York dairy farms and has compliance requirements and audits related to animal care, environmental stewardship, antibiotic use and many other practices. One farm reported having to spend time to ensure FARM compliance and that VFD added no additional paperwork above that already required for FARM.

Relationship with veterinarians

All of the farms we interviewed reported no major change to their relationship with their veterinarian. Veterinarians have likewise indicated that the additional time spent with farmers has generally not been overwhelming, and the financial costs to farmers are minimal if not negligible. An ongoing trend in the industry that the VFD may have played a role in facilitating is that veterinarians are increasingly playing a role in helping farms prevent disease and manage herd health, as opposed to simply providing medication in response to disease outbreaks.

Most veterinarians expressed concern regarding the veterinarian-client-patient relationship or VCPR, including where the increased liability for the VCPR falls. In rare situations, veterinarians reported that they turned away potential clients who they believed might have a difficult time meeting the VFD requirements, or those who would not be inclined to follow VFD guidelines. Although likely only representing a small share of total milk production in New York, farms without an existing relationship with a veterinarian may have experienced some difficulty adapting to VFD requirements.

Availability of medication

Timely availability of medication was the only major issue reported by farms we interviewed. Under the VFD guidelines, feed mills have an added responsibility to enforce documentation requirements, ensuring that the VFD is filed correctly before a product is sold. VFD requirements led to decreased demand in a number of products at feed mills, which in turn did not result in high enough returns for them to be stocked regularly. Both vets and farmers reported some instances where farms were forced to pay extra for antibiotics at a feed mill. In a few cases, VFD products were reported to not be available at feed mills early on in the transition, which resulted in a prolonged time to receive and administer medications.

For example, one farm experienced a pneumonia outbreak that they were unable to treat in time due to unavailability of appropriate antibiotics at feed mills, despite veterinary recommendation. Although it’s difficult to quantify the exact loss, some farms believed that they experienced higher mortality during this period. This lack of availability resulted from stocking issues that were occurring at feed mills, which may be resolved over time as farms, veterinarians and feed mills adapt to the new regulation. However, we believe that some economic losses were experienced during the first year of VFD implementation due to this issue.

Conclusion

Just over one year since the implementation of the new VFD regulations, the dairy industry in New York has experienced some adjustments as producers, veterinarians and feed mills adapted. However, financial losses and increased time commitments were not experienced on a large scale. Overall, herd health management practices continue to shift toward less antibiotic use and toward a more preventative approach to herd health. While the VFD may contribute to overall regulatory responsibilities and alter in a minor way the relationship between veterinarians and farmers, overall dairy industry impacts are minimal.  

Note: This research was supported in part by the intramural research program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.

Rob Lynch is a dairy herd health and management specialist with the Cornell University PRO-Dairy Program. Kelsey O'Shea is an agriculture business management specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension North Country Regional Ag Team. Angelo Manzo is a graduate student at the Cornell University Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.

progressiedairyman.com September 14, 2018

Tags: Health, Nutrition, Veterinary Feed Directive