INA, Ill. — Veterinarians are being given wide leeway in
determining how livestock producers may continue their use of
New rules written by the federal Food and Drug
Administration will affect most operations involving food animals, but shouldn’t
handcuff producers who depend on the drugs to fight illnesses, said James
Pettigrew, a University of Illinois professor emeritus. He discussed the
regulations at a meeting of beef producers here.
Despite continuing controversy about antibiotic use in
livestock, the matter is settled. And producers will have plenty of time to
adjust to the new rules.
“The debate is done. A decision has been made, and we have a
new law. We now need to spend our energies and time focusing on how we’re going
to adapt to the new rules,” Pettigrew said.
“There is some misunderstanding out there. Antibiotics are
not being eliminated from the livestock industry. Not even close. There’s a
three-year phase-in. So you don’t have to do something different next week than
you did last week. It’s going to be a long, slow process.”
While their use for growth promotion will not be allowed
under the law, antibiotics still may be given to some animals to prevent
That represents a gray area, Pettigrew acknowledged, since
preventative care often results in more growth and vice versa. But vets will
apparently have the final say.
“Quite frankly, we’ve never been very clear in the livestock
industry why we’re using antibiotics,” Pettigrew said.
“We’ve always said we use antibiotics for disease treatment.
And we always know when we’re doing that. We’ve also said we use antibiotics for
disease prevention and for growth promotion. But we’ve never been completely
clear about when we’re doing which.
“We know that if we use an antibiotic for disease prevention
we get a growth response. We also know that if we use an antibiotic for growth
promotion, we get disease prevention. We’ve simply never been very clear about
which is which. Now, folks, we have to be clear.”
The producer will not be the one making that
“It seems to me that there’s a very strong signal coming
from FDA in these rules, and that is, FDA has an enormous respect for
veterinarians,” Pettigrew said. “They’re giving veterinarians a great deal of
authority and a great deal of responsibility. I think this is going to force a
closer relationship between the producer and the veterinarian.”
He also acknowledged that the new system could lead to
“veterinarian shopping” by producers who seek more latitude in using
“FDA does not seem to be setting up a system to monitor
veterinarians,” he said. “Will producers be veterinarian shopping? Absolutely. I
don’t see any way that’s not going to happen. That means veterinarians are going
to be under a lot of pressure to do what the producers want. I don’t know how we
get around that.”
Under the new rules, antibiotics may not be used for growth
promotion. And there will be some restrictions on use for disease
“You can use an antibiotic for disease prevention if you
have evidence that the absence of that antibiotic will result in those animals
getting sick with a specific disease,” Pettigrew said.
“You can’t feed an antibiotic just because you say it will
keep your animals from getting sick. You have to say it’s going to keep your
animals from getting X disease, and you know that it is, because experience
tells you that. The fact that they got sick five years ago isn’t good enough. It
has to be more current than that.
“It’s quite lenient that they are allowing disease
prevention. But they expect that you have good evidence. The veterinarian has to
be involved. It’s the veterinarian’s judgment.”
Cattlemen will not likely be affected as much as pork
producers, Pettigrew said. But the rules also will cover the poultry and
Aquaculture could pose some challenges because biologists,
rather than veterinarians, often make decisions on disease treatment.
Pettigrew said that, despite the more stringent regulations,
producers should feel grateful because they are still able to use antibiotics
for disease prevention.
“In Europe, if an animal is not sick, you cannot give it an
antibiotic. So this is much more lenient than the European rules or the rules
that have adopted in a number of other countries,” he said. “It may very well be
that when you look back on this program five years from now, paperwork is the
worst part of it.”