Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman special report clarifies what new antibiotic procedures mean for consumers and farmers

Iowa livestock farmers and their veterinarians understand that consumers today have questions about the role of antibiotics in livestock farming and the sometimes confusing debate about antibiotic resistance in human health. A new report by the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman, “Antibiotic Stewardship on the Farm,” takes a detailed look at what the new protocols mean for consumers and farmers and how Iowa livestock farmers continue to improve practices on the farm.

Antibiotics have been widely prescribed for people since the 1940’s and are among the most commonly prescribed drugs.  “Although research has never established a direct link between the use of medically important antibiotics used in raising food animals and antibiotic resistance, farmers and veterinarians are listening to consumers and are cautious in how they use antibiotics to treat livestock,” noted Peter Davies, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

So, to bring positive change both the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with the support of the livestock industry, are tightening restrictions on antibiotic use in meat production. By Jan. 1, 2017, antibiotics important to human health will only be available under a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), similar to a prescription from a veterinarian.  Under the expanded rules, a veterinarian must fill out paperwork or an electronic form indicating which antibiotic is to be used, the duration of use and when the directive is to expire.  The veterinarian, farmer and feed mill are required to keep the paperwork for two years and provide a copy of the VFD upon inspection.

“The antibiotics we use in livestock typically are not the same that doctors prescribe to their human patients,” said Michelle Sprague, a veterinarian with the Audubon Manning Veterinary Clinic (AMVC) Management Services in Audubon.  “If we were to use a human medically important antibiotic in livestock, there are certain criteria that we need to meet before we can legally prescribe those products to the animals.”  To learn more about that process, view Dr. Sprague’s interview video on antibiotic use in livestock

For Alyce and Aaron Nieland, who raise pigs on their family farm just north of Breda, Iowa, the amended veterinary feed directive won’t change their business. They say their relationship with their veterinarian is an essential element of raising healthy livestock and safe food.  “My number one job is as a mom,” says Nieland.  “I want to have a safe pork chop on the table, so I don’t want antibiotics in our livestock, but if the pig is sick, we work to get him better so the animal is healthy before going to market.  We feel it is very important in this day and age to keep a good relationship with our vet, so they can treat the animals as they need it.”  To learn more, watch a video of the Nielands discussing the many ways they work to raise healthy hogs on their family farm. 

“Consumers have long been protected from antibiotic residues ending up in meat,” Davies said. “U.S. farmers must follow a strict withdrawal period [set by the FDA] before they can send an animal treated with antibiotics to market.”

The FDA and USDA test meat to ensure it is free from antibiotic residue and in accordance with set guidelines before going to market.

50 percent of all outpatient prescriptions are unnecessary

Richard Raymond, former USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety, said just as farmers are doing their part, the human health community also needs to take a closer look at its use – and overuse - of antibiotics. This, he said, is a factor leading to antibiotic resistance.  “The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control) has said 50 percent of all outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.  A lot of common colds are being treated with antibiotics.” 

The CDC says protocol changes were needed because of the growing concern about antibiotic resistance, excessive prescription, and incorrect dosing or duration.  The CDC offers advice for humans on how to know when antibiotics are needed, or not, but how people use antibiotics is just part of the issue. 

Animal well-being

“The role antibiotics play in quality animal care is often overlooked in the ongoing dialogue of antibiotic resistance, but they are a key tool for livestock farmers because, with proper veterinary oversight, they can help ensure the health and comfort of the animal, exactly what farmers strive for,” said Craig Hill, a pork producer and Iowa Farm Bureau president.

Veterinarians and food safety experts agree on the importance of a strong farmer-vet relationship and see benefits with the expanded VFD.  Sprague sees the development of a successful veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) with her clients and their livestock as essential, especially before a ‘need’ arises. “It’s critically important to know what you’re dealing with and what your course of action is so you can be effective in treating the animal,” says Sprague.  

To learn more, check out the Spokesman “Antibiotic Stewardship on the Farm” report at For information about how livestock are raised on Iowa farms, check out the Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition at: