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The Food and Drug Administration in December proposed plans to phase out the use of "medically important" antimicrobials in food animals when used to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency.

Though the proposal is still up for public comment on the Federal Register, it begs the question: what does that mean for livestock producers and veterinarians?

"Initially, it's the animal health companies that will be adjusting their practices," explains Russ Daly, DVM, South Dakota State University Extension veterinarian. But, he notes, producers will soon be affected, and FDA's changes will eventually make their way down to the folks who prescribe and use the drugs.

Veterinarian discusses how proposed changes for antibiotic use in livestock feed will impact producers
What will change?
The role of livestock antibiotics in contributing to resistant bacterial infections in humans is complex and has been long-debated, Daly says, and producer associations have seen the writing on the wall for a couple of years now that these changes were coming.

He outlines what is expected to change:

The labeled uses of "medically important" antibiotics for growth promotion and improvements in feed efficiency will go away. The FDA is asking drug manufacturers to voluntarily take these uses off their products' labels. Because extra-label use of feed grade antibiotics is illegal, these uses will no longer be legal as well.

The companies have until mid-March to tell the FDA what products they plan to do this with. After that, they have three years to make the label changes, so livestock producers currently using antibiotics for growth promotion will have time to adjust, depending on how quickly the companies switch over.

The list of what FDA considers "medically important" antibiotics is pretty long. It contains older drugs like tetracyclines and penicillin along with classes of drugs that are more critical to human medicine, such as cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones.

When it comes to growth-promoting antibiotics that fall into this category, it's drugs like tetracyclines, tylosin, and neomycin that will be affected.

These "medically important" products will shift from over-the-counter to "Veterinary Feed Directive" classification - possibly with new label indications for treatment, control, or prevention. The VFD is not a new classification; it's currently being used for some newer feed-grade drugs.

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