New year brings changes: Farmers and veterinarians must work even closer together to use antibiotics responsibly

December 22, 2016

We’re all in this together. That’s what I say when I talk with farmers and fellow veterinarians, as well as medical doctors and public health experts, about responsible antibiotic use. We have to be on the same team for the sake of human health and animal health.

So, what does that mean starting Jan. 1, 2017? It means we’re changing the way we do business.

Animal health companies, farmers and veterinarians have cooperated with and prepared for the implementation of new guidance from the Food and Drug Administration that will end the use of antibiotics important to human medicine to promote growth in animals or to improve feed efficiency.

The other change is new FDA guidance requiring a veterinary feed directive (VFD), which is essentially a prescription livestock and poultry producers must obtain from a veterinarian before medically important drugs can be used in feed to treat, control and prevent disease in their flocks and herds. These same medications require a prescription from a veterinarian to be used in water. The FDA sees these changes as an important part of the overall strategy to ensure the responsible use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals.

Although there is scientific acknowledgement that the use of antibiotics in people is the primary source of antibiotic resistance, the animal health community recognizes that antibiotics must be used responsibly in food animals to minimize agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance. That’s why we have collaborated with farmers, the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. The FDA’s new guidance is part of this effort.

It’s understandable that some farmers have misgivings about these changes given the continuous increase of regulations that apply to them and the scientific realities. But, agriculture must demonstrate that we are part of the team working to address antibiotic resistance. By ensuring responsible use of antibiotics on the farm, we increase the likelihood that we will retain this important tool to prevent and relieve animal suffering and disease.antibiotic-resistance-infographic

Some groups advocate for the complete elimination of using medically important drugs in livestock and poultry. We are working to help them understand why animal suffering could be an unintended consequence if this were to happen.

We know that when an animal is sick with a bacterial infection, treating it with antibiotics is the ethical thing to do. And for certain poultry diseases, the only FDA-approved treatments are antibiotics that are also used in human medicine.

The concern for antibiotic resistance is valid. Still, we also know that when a concern generates fear, as antibiotic resistance has, the response is not always based in science. So it’s really important that we’re at the table helping to find solutions and demonstrating that we’re committed to responsible use of antibiotics.

Consumers want to know how food is produced, who’s producing it, what’s in it and how it impacts their health. Farmers and veterinarians need to continually provide assurances to them that the right thing to do is to use important medicines responsibly.

Veterinarians take an oath to protect animal health, prevent and relieve animal suffering, and promote public health, similar to the oath taken by medical doctors to protect human health. Both work to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance.

These new limits on antibiotic use in animals could very well increase the amount of work required to properly treat, control and prevent animal diseases. But it’s worth it if we retain one of the most effective tools in our toolkits. Veterinarians must work closely with farmers to make sure the changes do not hamper our ability to provide safe, wholesome food.

I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.

Content created in partnership with the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.