Emilie Herbst, Ted C. Schroeder, Brad White, and Robert Larson
Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University
The beef cattle industry is facing considerable public scrutiny regarding antibiotic use. Concerns regarding perceived over-use of antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance has prompted public policy initiatives to increase controls of antibiotic use in livestock production. In response, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which goes into effect January of 2017. The new law will require all food animal producers, including beef cattle producers like cow-calf, backgrounder/stocker, and feedlot operations, to obtain a VFD from a licensed veterinarian to purchase medicated feed. Veterinarians must have or establish and maintain a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to write a VFD for a producer. A copy of each VFD must be kept by veterinarians, feed distributors and producers for two years.
The VFD establishes new rules addressing antibiotics used in livestock feed. How the VFD will ultimately impact antibiotic use in cattle production is not entirely clear. However, an established formal relationship between cattle producers and their consulting veterinarian will be essential if the producer wants to purchase and use medicated feed. The Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University conducted a survey of consulting beef cattle veterinarians regarding their opinions of and plans for managing the upcoming Veterinary Feed Directive. The survey was designed to evaluate economic implications of the upcoming VFD law and to help consulting veterinarians and producers better anticipate and prepare for the upcoming changes.
The survey was distributed in September 2016 through two listservs, the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the Academy of Veterinary Consultants with a combined total of around 2800 recipients. These listservs include consulting veterinarians, academic teachers and researchers, and numerous other industry participants who are not necessarily practicing veterinarians. Total survey respondents included 138 practicing beef cattle veterinarians.
Respondent Demographic Information
Survey respondents included cow-calf, backgrounding, and feedlot consulting veterinarians. Nearly three-fourths of respondents had primarily cow-calf clients, 13% backgrounding/stocker clients and 14% were primarily feedlot consulting veterinarians (Figure 1). The size structure of the beef cattle operations the respondents consult with is provided in Figure 2. Consulting feedlot veterinarians were roughly uniformly distributed across those that consult with small (<1,000 head marketed per year) to very large (50,000 or more head marketed) feedlot operations. Backgrounder/Stocker Veterinarians included those that consult with large operations (>1,000 head marketed per year) as well as small operations (< 100 head marketed per year). Cow-Calf veterinarians were concentrated with 57% working with small operations (0-99 cows), but veterinarians practicing with large cow-calf operations (>300 cows) were also represented.
Practicing veterinarians who responded to the survey had business territories that represented most of the U.S. with the Plains (44%) and Midwest (29%) comprising the largest group of respondents (Figure 3).
Veterinary Client Patient Relationship and Veterinary Feed Directive Practices
Veterinarians must maintain a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) to write VFDs. The majority of veterinarian respondents considered 2 visits to an operation a year to be sufficient to have a VCPR (Figure 4). However, more than 20% consider 1 visit per year to be sufficient. The definition of a valid VCPR varies by state. This may drive differences in cattle operations in different regions. Feedlot consulting veterinarians tend to consider more visits per year as necessary compared to cow-calf veterinarians which could be explained by the greater turnover rate of feedlot cattle inventory.
That vast majority of veterinarians (87%) indicate that they do not plan to recruit clients specifically to meet minimum VFD requirements. However, nearly 80% plan to accept new clients to enable the producers to comply with the directive. About 50% of veterinarians indicated that they would be willing to write a VFD for their client at the request of a feed nutritionists. However, 100% of veterinarians would not write a VFD for a feed nutritionist if it were requested for someone who is not their client.
Figure 5 summarizes different ways veterinarians have prepared themselves and their staff for the VFD. As of September2016, nearly all veterinarian respondents (98%) have done something to prepare themselves and their staff for the upcoming VFD changes. Figure 6 lists ways veterinarians have prepared their beef cattle clients for the upcoming VFD. Most veterinarians (87%) have done something to prepare their beef cattle clients for the upcoming VFD changes.
Most veterinarians plan to use a VFD form that has been created either by a drug sponsor (54%) or a third party (46%) (Figure 7). Half of veterinarians plan to make more annual farm visits once VFDs are required, but only sometimes (71%) to rarely (19%) plan to see each individual animal before writing a VFD.
Nearly 80% of veterinarians plan to use existing staff to manage additional record keeping requirements. One-in-five respondents plan to either hire new staff or hire a third-party for the additional record keeping associated with the VFD (Figure 8).
How much practicing veterinarians plan to charge for a VFD varies but the mode is the same for cow-calf, backgrounder/stocker, and feedlot operations. About 50% of veterinarians plan to charge between $1 and $25 to write a VFD and 24% plan to charge $26 to $50 (Figure 9). The distribution of expected charges veterinarians reported they would charge to write a VFD may include other embedded fees associated with a VCPR as we would expect over time the fees for writing VFDs would merge toward the cost of providing the service.
Figure 10 shows the amount of burden respondents expect the VFD will impose on veterinarians, feed suppliers, producers and consulting nutritionists. Overall, expected burden to comply with the VFD is considered moderate. The highest amount of burden is expected to be on feed suppliers followed closely by producers.
Table 1 shows the amount of money veterinarians expect the VFD to cost them. Practicing veterinarians expect total cost per year for writing and delivering VFDs and total cost per year for maintaining VFD records to total $2,992.88 per year. Veterinarians also total expected cost to educate clients and others (feed nutritionists, feed suppliers, etc…) on the VFD and total cost spent to train staff on VFD requirements to cost around $1,442.62 total.
Total cost per year writing and delivering VFDs was expected to be greater than $1500 for the consulting veterinarians. However, there was considerable range in responses. The average cost was expected to be $2,318, with a standard deviation of $1,070. Total dollars per year spent on maintaining records for VFDs was most often expected to be $0-$50 or $251-$500 per year with an average of $675 and a standard deviation of $423. Total expected cost to educate clients and others (nutritionists, feed suppliers) was quite variable with an average of $972 and standard deviation of $256. Total expected cost to train staff on VFD requirements was generally considered to be nominal, with an average of $471 and standard deviation of $384.
Expectations for the Future
A set of questions were posed to the consulting veterinarians to understand their collective expectations for antibiotic use in beef cattle in the future. Nearly three-fourths of consulting veterinarians anticipate the use of antibiotics in feed for cow-calf operations will decrease in the future. This suggests cow-calf producers will need to find alternative ways to help manage animal health. The use of antibiotics in backgrounder/stocker and feedlot operations is less certain with respondents being roughly evenly split between whether they expect antibiotic use to decrease or have no change (Figure 11) as a result of the VFD. Very few consulting veterinarians expect increases in antibiotic use in feed at any level in the industry. Overall two-thirds of respondents expect the health of beef cattle will not change as a result of the VFD, 18% think it will improve animal health, which could be as a result of more producers developing a VCPR (Figure 12). In contrast, 16% expect the VFD to reduce beef herd health.
About 70% of Veterinarians are recommending their beef cattle producer clients adopt production practices that reduce the use of feed and injectable antimicrobials in the future. Nearly two-thirds of veterinarians think it is extremely likely and 32% think it is somewhat likely that further restrictions on antibiotics will occur in the future (Figure 13).
To better understand how different constituents are being perceived by consulting veterinarians as influencing future use of antibiotics, we posed a couple questions related to this issue. Specifically, we asked each respondent to list what they perceived as the three most influential and three least influential drivers, among a list of eight alternatives, of future antibiotic use in beef cattle production in the future. The most important driver for antibiotics use in livestock is expected to be state and federal policies and regulations, with 26% of respondents indicating this was one of the three most important factors. Consumers and activist groups were considered the next most important drivers of change in this arena. The least important were producer preferences (Figure 14, Table 2).
Results from our survey indicate veterinarians are aware of the Veterinary Feed Directive and have begun preparing themselves and clients for the changes. Overall, veterinarians believe the VFD will not have a large impact on their businesses or the industry. Most consulting veterinarians will welcome new clients for the purpose of establishing a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship in order to write VFDs. The VFD is expected to cause a moderate burden for veterinarians, feed suppliers, producers and consulting nutritionists. Overall health for beef cattle is not anticipated to change with the VFD in place. The use of antibiotics in livestock production in the future is expected to become more regulated. The drivers for these regulations are anticipated to be state and federal policies and regulations, consumers, and activist groups.
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