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New Livestock Antibiotic Requirements Take Effect January 1 - Are You Ready?

By Dan Macon
Antibiotics used to prevent and treat animal diseases are an important tool for livestock producers and veterinarians. As in human medicine, antibiotic resistance threatens the efficacy of these tools. As you may have heard, a new law takes effect in California next year; as of January 1, 2018, all medically important antibiotics must be administered with a prescription or veterinary feed directive (VFD) issued by a licensed veterinarian through a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR). The new law applies to commercial producers and hobbyists alike. The goal of the new law is to ensure current and future availability of antibiotics.
What does all of this mean for producers? First, it means that you'll need to be sure you are working closely with your veterinarian. For a valid VCPR, your veterinarian needs to know and see your operation. According to the VCPR regulation, “The veterinarian [must have] sufficient knowledge of the animal(s) to initiate at least a general or preliminary diagnosis of the medical condition of the animal(s). This means that the veterinarian is personally acquainted with the care of the animal(s) by virtue of an examination of the animal or by medically appropriate and timely visits to the premises where the animals are kept.”
In anticipation of the new law, you may want to consider having your vet out to your operation to update this relationship. At that point, he or she may be able write you a prescription (or a VFD) for specific products (like LA-200, for example) to treat a specific range of conditions. Your veterinarian needs to know that you know how to identify particular illnesses (like respiratory infection) and safely administer the antibiotic according to label and prescription instructions.
Second, you should check in with your feed store or other pharmaceutical supplier to make sure they'll still offer the antibiotics you've been using. In order to sell pharmaceutical products that require a prescription, a feed store will need to be a licensed veterinary food-animal drug retailer. Some suppliers have indicated that they are uncertain about the new requirements; you can point them towards the resources in the links below.
Third, take some time to educate yourself about antibiotic stewardship. As livestock producers, all of us have a responsibility to ensure that these products remain effective and available. Make a habit of reading label instructions and documenting your use of these products – this is simply sound management (regardless of the legal requirement).
Finally, this new law doesn't affect vaccines – you'll still have access to the over-the-counter vaccines you've been using. Once again, you should consult with your veterinarian; vaccination programs may become all the more important in this new regulatory environment.