Are you ready for 2017?

A new future of antibiotics use in agriculture is emerging ahead of new rules in the U.S. set to take effect by January 1, 2017 with the full implementation of new Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulations.

Changes are also expected in Canada during 2017, though the timing and details are less clear at the current stage.

The transition to this new era is anticipated to bring label changes along with much greater restriction on what can be used under what circumstances.

In the U.S., a number of animal health companies with products affected by VFDs have already released new product labels:

"Beginning January 1, 2017, this product will require a veterinary feed directive issued by a licensed veterinarian and will be subject to the following restriction. Caution: Federal law restricts medicated feed containing this veterinary feed directive (VFD) drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.

Effective January 1, 2017 this product will no longer be approved for increased rate of weight gain or improved feed efficiency in any species which means the use of this product for these purposes will no longer be legal"

The key question for livestock operations and everyone involved in the feed industry is how these new rules will impact production approaches and what options are available to help adapt to the changes. Over and above the new rules, it has already become clear that industry must prepare for reduced reliance on use of antimicrobials, as a range of consumer and market trends increasinlgly push the industry in this direction.

What you need to know

Here’s a brief snapshot of several of the fundamentals to know:

New limits on antimicrobial options

The focus of the VFD in the U.S. is to dramatically reduce the use of "medically important antibiotics" in animal agriculture. The FDA has developed a list of antibiotics that will be covered by the new rule -- creating a new category of "VFD drugs" with strict restrictions.

(A regularly updated list of the antimicrobials transitioning from "over the counter' to VFD status is available here.)

Veterinary oversight required

Antibiotics on the VFD list can only be used by or with the authorization of a licensed veterinarian, with the aim to ensure these options are used judiciously and only when important for specific animal health purposes.

Use for production benefits will end

A related aim of the rule is to completely eliminate the use of the antibiotics covered by the rule for any "production purposes." The bottom line is that use of these antibiotics for growth promotion and feed efficiency will be completely prohibited.

Back to basics for the role of antibiotics

The shift reflected in VFD and anticipated similar Canadian regulations is coming together with market and consumer trends to create a new "back to basics" very limited and heavily scrutinized future for all antibiotics use in agriculture. The new rules will still allow the use of certain antibiotics to treat, control or prevent diseases caused by micro-organisms, but under much tighter restriction.

Preparing for new reality: Shift is coming fast

Even though antibiotics use in compliance with the new rules will still be permitted, the overall reality of the new environment is that livestock operations will increasingly be expected to do more and more to reduce their reliance on and need for antibiotics. The emerging consensus among industry analysts points to antibiotics use becoming much more an option of last resort rather than a "go to" tool of the past.

More focus on alternatives to improve gut environment

For industry and producers, the primary concern on this production side is how to adapt to the new rules and marketplace expectations without sacrificing performance. This is placing more focus on approaches that can provide “antibiotic alternatives” by offering similar production benefits ,via the same general outcome of positively altering the gut microflora.

Feed supplements among most promising tools

This is bringing heightened attention to feed supplement options that show potential to do this job. A number of options — including certain prebiotics and probiotics, mircobials, yeasts, enzymes and more — have the ability to positively alter the gut mircoflora in ways that support animal health, feed efficiency and performance. New science and knowledge supporting this potential is emerging now with increasing regularity.

Opportunity for new levels of productivity

The good news overall is that with advances in feed supplements there is stong potential to not only replace antibiotics’ production benefits but also to raise the level of those benefits substantially higher. This is because various supplements not only provide benefits by supporting an improved gut environment, but also by providing additional benefits that enhance nutrition and the ability of animals to capture nutrients.

“The bottom line is that with the options that are available today, there really is no need to rely on antibiotics for production benefits,” says Dr. Bogdan Slominski of the University of Manitoba, a leading researcher in novel feed technologies. “This would be the case whether the new rules were coming in or not.

“A great deal has been accomplished over many years of research and development that is now resulting in product improvements that couldn’t arrive at a better time for industry. I see the rise of feed technology continuing to become a stronger factor in the management and success of livestock operatons for many years to come.”

Implications for Canada

Though the process and details have been slow to come by, more information is now emerging on how Canada's approach will mirror that of the U.S. A consultation period on proposed Canada Gazette changes is currently underway and new requirements emerging from the broader process are expected to be implemented at different phases during 2017.

Health Canada has indicated that objectives include working to phase out growth promotion claims on antimicrobial drugs used in food production. Proposed changes would also reinforce or increase requirements for veterinary oversight, restrict the importation of some veterinary drugs used in livestock and require drug manufacturers to follow stricter rules.

Stay tuned to learn more

More information is also anticipated on the practical requirements and liabilities for feed mills, livestock operations and others involved, in both countries. Watch for more information from Canadian Bio-Systems and in future editions of FeedScape.

Key links with background information include the FDA's VFD site and the Canada Gazette page on the new Canadian approach.