2017 Scholarship Essay: Taylor Homann


Taylor Homann is a 2017 Targeting Excellence Graduate Award scholarship recipient from Minnesota.  To learn more about Taylor check out her profile.  

How will the VFD as it pertains to the use of antibiotics in food animal production impact producers and the perception of our industry by consumers?

As someone interested in swine veterinary medicine and active with Minnesota Pork, veterinary feed directives are a current hot topic for me.

VFDs are not a novel concept. The idea has been used since the 1990s and had previously been applied in swine medicine with products like tilmicosin (Pulmotil) and florfenicol (Nuflor). FDA Guidance #209 (finalized in 2012) and FDA Guidance #213 (finalized in 2013) have been in place for years and are just now starting to be widely implemented. Because many producers were already implementing VFDs in some way, in and of themselves, they are not surprising. What is surprising to producers is the new amount of oversight in purchasing and using antibiotics in feed. Producers are now being forced to truly have a veterinary client patient relationship (VCPR) and to understand drug label claims of the products they are using. Producers that have not complied may struggle to understand the need to comply with label claims. Producers that do not have a relationship with a veterinarian may struggle to see the value in the added cost of maintaining a VCPR. Larger systems may struggle with helping their field staff understand how these new rules and regulations change what they do on a day to day basis with regards to ordering feed meds. To better gauge a system level approach to VFDs, I called Jacque Heiderscheidt. Jacque is the Feed Order Department Manager for Christensen Farms (CF). She explained to me how the new regulations have raised awareness of antibiotic use in their company and helped them reduce antibiotic need. One specific example of how company policy has changed would be removing some of the regularly scheduled pulses of feed antibiotics to their sow farms. Jacque asked the veterinarians she works with “Can we justify this antibiotic use? Is this the right thing to do?” It has also opened up conversations about how to replace feed antibiotics with water medications and individual treatments in flows where reduction is not possible. She has not seen any industry-wide impact yet, just a lot more paperwork and tracking. Jacque predicts that, similar to CF, antibiotic use will decline across the industry, with more and more producers looking to alternatives.

Jill Resler, the Director of Education with Minnesota Pork, has also seen overall antibiotic use decline. She credits strategies like eliminating Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae from flows and filtering sow farms, among other management practices, with helping reduce the need for antibiotics while maintaining animal welfare standards. She sees VFDs as “another layer of accountability that helps producers tell the story of responsible antibiotic use.” Companies, like CF, have been tracking and reducing their antibiotic use for years. These new regulations help standardize and further document practices like these. By increasing this transparency, we have an additional outlet to talk about industry wide antibiotic use and communicate our animal welfare caring and understanding of how antibiotics affect animals and humans.

Of the species groups, Jill believes that pork was the most prepared, with checkoff and other parts of industry helping feed mills, veterinarians and producers understand the regulations. Individuals like Lori Stevermer, with Hubbard Feeds, have been a resource to producers, veterinarians and feed mills by truly understanding the regulations and having conversations with auditors about how to comply. Lori is also a great asset to pig farmers in Minnesota as she is also very personally involved in speaking with consumers and sharing that understanding as another consumer interface.

Regulations like VFDs and prescriptions offer an opportunity for veterinarians like myself to help our producers understand the uses and unintended consequences of antibiotics. Our medical expertise allows us to translate legal and medical jargon to an applicable understanding for our producers and consumers. By helping producers understand antibiotics, veterinarians can also influence how those producers communicate. We have a responsibility to keep antibiotics effective both for pigs and people. Resistance affects us personally, a story that we can tell to continue to help consumers understand how antibiotics are a tool for both physicians and veterinarians. Veterinarians and producers can also continue to help legislators and regulators understand the impact that their policy has on family farms every day and help them draft and implement meaningful regulations. According to Jill, “Not all regulation is bad at all levels; it needs to be regulation that works for all parties involved.”

Oversight of antibiotics will not decrease throughout my lifetime, nor will public concern for antibiotic use and other farm practices. We need to do the right thing for our animals, safeguard the efficacy of antibiotics and share our story with both legislators and consumers.