A Vet’s Perspective on Antibiotics and the Veterinary Feed Directive

jakegeis_fabpost1Jake Geis, DVM – Veterinarian, Tyndall Veterinary Clinic

This is a topic of discussion within the beef industry. The following article does not represent the opinion of the Beef Checkoff.

Farmers and ranchers are always responding to the ever-changing issues facing agriculture. One of our top priorities is addressing concerns about antibiotic resistance in both human and animal health. In response, the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) is being updated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), working with farmers, ranchers, feed manufacturers, and veterinarians.

What is the VFD and Why Is It Important?

Beginning January 1st, 2017, federal guidelines will require a written or electronic prescription-like script, a VFD, to authorize the use of antibiotics in cattle feed that are important to human medicine. As a component of this change, antibiotics used in human medicine will no longer be allowed for use for growth promotion in cattle feed.

How Do Veterinarians, Farmers and Ranchers Work Together?

For a cattle owner, obtaining a VFD will take veterinary involvement. If the farmer or rancher’s primary veterinarian diagnoses cattle that are in a disease outbreak, the veterinarian can write a VFD for the treatment, prevention or control of disease that allows the farmer or rancher to obtain feed-grade antibiotics. The VFD is taken to a licensed cattle feed business, like a prescription is taken to a pharmacy, where the order is filled.

For example, a farmer or rancher might have a group of calves that have come down with pneumonia. That farmer would contact me, a veterinarian, and we would assess the situation. Rather than give each calf an injectable antibiotic, which would add stress to calves that are already sick, I elect to treat them with an oral antibiotic that is mixed in with their feed. I would write the VFD and then send a copy to the licensed feed distributor.

As a Veterinarian, What Do You Want Concerned Consumers to Know?

As a veterinarian, I feel the VFD is important for two reasons. First, it allows for the continued therapeutic use of antibiotics in the feed. This is of major importance for animal welfare, as it allows for efficient treatment of diseases in a manner that is effective and provides the lowest stress for the animal.

Second, it fosters a closer relationship between the cattle owner and the veterinarian. Having a veterinarian’s input enhances animal health decisions in providing the best treatment for disease challenges. Most importantly, veterinarians can help farmers and ranchers with preventative medicine programs, which guard against disease outbreaks.

I alsojakegeis_fabpost2 want consumers to know in spite of the best preventative programs, occasionally cattle get sick. I’ve seen the frustration in farmers’ faces when a group of calves was struggling with disease despite their best efforts to prevent it. In some of those cases, feed-grade antibiotics made the difference in creating better animal welfare for the calves.

Where Can Consumers Learn More?

The VFD is only one of several strategies cattle farmers and ranchers are using. If you’d like to learn more, there are several resources that detail these other strategies. These include FactsAboutBeef.com, the North American Meat Institute, and blogs from farmers and ranchers, such as Kids Cows and Grass, Faith Family and Beef and my own blog, The Cow Docs.

Lastly, it is critical to remember that preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics is a cause for all of us. Even making sure to finish the full course of antibiotics prescribed to you or to your animals is essential to the fight against antibiotic resistance. With a dedicated effort, together we can successfully confront this challenge.

5 Fast Facts About the New FDA Antibiotics Guidelines

Ranchers write down antibiotic adminstration records

Farmers and ranchers take antibiotic use and stewardship very seriously.

Farmers and ranchers are always looking for ways to improve how they raise cattle for beef. Whether it be natural resource use and environmental sustainabilty, improving animal care, or responsible use of antibiotics, farmers and ranchers care about improving and responding to consumer preferences. Real changes happen daily on farms, ranches and feedyards around the country.

Real Change is Underway

We’ve talked in previous posts about how and why antibiotics are used in raising cattle for beef, as well as the long-standing commitment of cattle producers to using antibiotics judiciously. In addition to Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) Judicious Use Guidelines which have been in place since the 1980s, the beef industry is now working to reduce the use of antibiotics that are medically important to humans under new guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) known as FDA Guidance 209 and 213, which will be enforced by the federal government. The new antibiotics use guidelines will be fully enacted by January 1, 2017, but cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard managers have already begun implementing these changes, many of them going above and beyond what is required by law, working with veterinary health professionals, regulatory officials and the general public to ensure healthy animals and safe beef.

Here are five fast facts about the new FDA antibiotics guidelines:

  1. The new FDA guidelines will restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock that are used in feed and water and are medically important to human health. These drugs will no longer be used for growth promotion and will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease only under the oversight of a veterinarian.
  2. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with a licensed veterinarian, called a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, in order to receive authorization from their veterinarian for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness for a specific time period.
  3. Per FDA guidelines, farmers and ranchers will utilize very specific detailed orders for antibiotics in feed as authorized by veterinarians, called veterinary feed directives, that will outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used, for what illness and for a specific number of animals. Increased use of detailed records on the part of the farmer or rancher and their veterinarian will enable them to more precisely evaluate their use of antibiotics.
  4. Farmers and ranchers are continually seeking new and effective cattle health and nutrition alternatives, such as probiotics or nutritional supplements, which can help contribute to improved overall herd health and may reduce the need for some antibiotics. Looking for alternatives to antibiotics is an ongoing area of research throughout agriculture. In fact, many animal health companies have pledged significant resources to further researching these alternatives.
  5. In addition to what is required by law, the beef community is committed to going above and beyond to ensure responsible antibiotic use in animals to protect the efficacy of antibiotics for humans and animals. This year, cattle farmers and ranchers have made further research on antibiotic resistance their number one research priority and are directly investing their dollars to advance research in this area. Additionally, the industry is proactively developing educational materials, including webinars, posters, presentations at local and national meetings and other training resources in order to educate cattle farmers, ranchers and feedyard owners to ensure that they are equipped with the resources they need to follow these new guidelines. Partnerships with groups like the American Academy of Bovine Practitioners and other science-based organizations are ongoing and instrumental in making sure that we’re protecting the health of animals, while simultaneously protecting public health.

Healthy Cattle, Safe Beef

When it comes to healthy animals, no one cares more than farmers and ranchers. The beef that farmers and ranchers raise and sell to restaurants and supermarkets is the same beef they feed their own families, so it’s no surprise that they want the best care for their livestock to ensure everyone has safe, healthy beef. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines from the FDA and working with their veterinarians more closely than ever before is just one example of how the cattle industry is continuously improving.

Why Am I Hearing About Cloned Chinese Beef?

You may have recently heard about cloned Chinese beef in the news and have questions. You can find the answers to commonly asked questions about meat from cloned animals below.

Does cloned beef exist in China?

In China, cattle will be cloned to enter the Chinese meat supply. Chinese scientists have determined that cloning cattle could help increase the availability of protein in China because they don’t have enough meat for their growing population.

Am I eating cloned meat?

It is highly unlikely that you will encounter meat from cloned animals in the United States for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, the United States does not import meat from China; so you will not find cloned Chinese beef in the U.S. meat supply. While there are some cloned cattle in the United States, these clones are primarily utilized to produce elite breeding stock or animals that have great genetic traits, not for animals that are raised for food. These high-quality breeding stock are very expensive, so it doesn’t make business or financial sense for those animals to be raised for food.

Beef cattle

Are cloned animals safe to eat?

Yes. After an extensive study of animal cloning and food safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that meat and milk from clones of cattle, swine, and goats, or their offspring, are as safe to eat as food from conventionally bred animals. These conclusions can be found in the FDA’s Animal Cloning: A Risk Assessment and are based on FDA findings that “the composition of food products from cattle, swine and goat clones, or the offspring of any animal clones, is no different from that of conventionally bred animals.”

Does cloned meat have a label?

There is no mandatory label for meat from cloned animals – the FDA has found no science-based reason to require labels to distinguish between products from clones and products from conventionally raised animals. However since cloned animals in the U.S. are used primarily for breeding purposes, the likelihood of consuming cloned animal products is very low.

You can be confident in the safety of U.S. beef and that America’s beef community is committed to providing high quality beef products that you demand.

 

There is No Horse Meat in Ground Beef

In some countries around the world, horse meat may be considered a delicacy. If you are concerned that horse meat may be in your meat, rest assured there is no horse meat in your beef.

In the United States, strict oversight and labeling laws ensure all ground beef sold is 100% beef. With a number of safeguards in place, the ground beef you know and love, does not contain meat from other animals.

A food safety expert discusses beef safety and quality in a processing plant

All U.S. beef is inspected and complies with labeling laws

Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) must be present at each federally-inspected plant throughout the country to ensure proper food safety and strict labeling requirements.

Additionally, countries that export beef to the U.S. are required to follow equivalent meat inspection programs and comply with labeling laws and it is illegal to import horse meat into the U.S. for human consumption. All of these policies are in place to ensure a safe beef supply. The Food Safety and Inspection Service has even enhanced safeguards by species testing meats to prevent fraudulently labeled products from entering the country.

You can be confident that strict oversight and labeling laws prevent any other type of meat from entering the beef supply. The bottom line is, your beef is 100% beef!

Get the Facts on “Meat Glue” or Transglutaminase

There have been a multitude of questions about transglutaminase or “meat glue” lately. Let’s set the record straight on this safe, naturally-occurring enzyme that has been used for nearly two decades.

What is Transglutaminase or “Meat Glue”?

Transglutaminase (TG) or “meat glue” is a naturally-occurring enzyme, composed of simple amino acid chains.

Why is TG used?

TG is often used to ensure uniform portion sizes and to prevent food waste, like combining smaller cuts of meat into larger servings. TG may also be used to bind bacon to a filet for a delicious bacon-wrapped steak.

Is it safe?

Yes, TG has a long history of safe use according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. TG has also been generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and is not classified as an allergen in the United States or Europe.

Uncooked Bacon Wrapped Filets.  Source: SteakGifts.net

Uncooked Bacon Wrapped Filets. Source: SteakGifts.net

Is TG labeled?

Yes. If a product contains TG, “transglutaminase” will be included in the ingredient statement. A meat product that contains TG will also indicate “formed” or “shaped” on the label.

How should I handle and cook meat containing TG?

Meat containing TG should be handled or cooked the same as any other meats; be sure to cook all meat to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source and allow the cut to rest for 3 minutes before eating. TG is deactivated by most cooking techniques and most people can’t detect any change of flavor to foods it’s used on.

How do I know if I am being served or purchasing meat with TG?

If you would like to know if meat you are served in a restaurant contains TG, just ask your server if it is a formed product. Regardless of whether or not TG is used, it is 100% beef.

In grocery stores, a product that uses TG will say “formed” or “shaped” on the label.

How is “meat glue” used in practice by chefs?

This naturally occurring enzyme is most commonly used to bind proteins together to make uniform portions of, for example, beef tenderloins, which recovers the less useful tapered ends of the tenderloin. By fusing two small pieces of tenderloin together chefs can maximize utilization and reduce food waste. Transglutaminase can also be used for creative applications in modernist cuisine, such as bacon wrapped filets or creating sausages without a casing.

For more information visit the USDA Website.

Drug Residues in Meat?

Myth: Ranchers aren’t doing anything about drug residues in beef.

Fact: Farmers and ranchers are committed to raising safe, wholesome beef.  In addition, the United States has a complex residue control system, with rigorous processes for approval, sampling, testing, and enforcement activities. The National Residue Program is designed to prevent the occurrence of violative levels of chemical residues in meat and poultry products. Three principal agencies are involved in the control of residues in meat and poultry products:

    1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
    2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
    3. U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA)

Hamburger patties in a beef processing plant. Source: Grist

What is a residue?

A residue refers to the presence of veterinary drugs or pesticides in meat. These residues are usually measured in parts per million or parts per billion.  The overwhelming majority of meat products contain no residues or residues within the government prescribed tolerance levels. Veterinary drug tolerances are established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.  EPA establishes tolerances for registered pesticides under the Food Quality Protection Act.

How are veterinary drug (including antibiotics) residues controlled?

  • The FDA approves veterinary drugs and the specific dosage rates to treat specific diseases or conditions, and farmers, ranchers and veterinarians are required by law to follow the FDA-approved label to administer the drug appropriately and correctly.
  • Even after they are approved, veterinary drugs are continuously monitored and must be re-evaluated annually. They only remain on the market if they continue to be proven safe for the animal, human consumption and the environment.
  • The FDA also sets withdrawal times for all veterinary drugs, including antibiotics. Withdrawal time is the amount of time required for the drug to be fully processed by the animal’s body; the withdrawal time depends on the drug but typically ranges from zero to 60 days.
  • Beef farmers and ranchers, along with veterinarians, are committed to following guidelines to ensure no meat with antibiotic residue above the FDA tolerance level enters our food supply.
  • The FSIS routinely tests meat to ensure its safety according to standards set by the FDA. At the plant, USDA inspectors take samples to confirm no residue violations are present.

What is the Repeat Residue Violators list?

  • The Repeat Residue Violators list is a publicly available list of producers who have had more than one drug or pesticide residue violation. This list is used by USDA inspectors to put further scrutiny on cattle from those producers and by cattle buyers to know their supplier has previously had a residue violation.

How does the Residue Violators list work?

  • If a cattle producer violates the prescribed residue levels more than once they are put on the Repeat Residue Violators list.
  • This list is updated weekly by FSIS – the entity that has inspectors at every federally-inspected beef processing plant throughout the country. A total of 27 states have state-inspected beef processing plants, meat from these plants can only be sold within the state. All meat products that cross state borders must by inspected by FSIS. State meat and poultry inspection programs participate in the National Residue Program.
  • A producer stays on the Residue Violators List for one year. The list you can find online is every producer who has had a residue violation over the past 365 days, not just the past week.

To learn more about antibiotic residues, watch this video of experts developed by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

Ten Tips for Safely Handling and Preparing Raw Beef

Myth: There are too many risks associated with handling raw beef and defrosting beef for it to be at the center of the plate at meal time.

The Facts: Actually, there are many tips that consumers can implement into their beef purchasing and preparation routines which contribute to a safe, enjoyable beef-eating experience.

Tip 1- Purchase beef that is cold to the touch, with no holes or tears and choose packages without excessive liquid. Make beef your last purchase at the grocery store and place it at the bottom of your cart in a plastic bag to prevent possible cross-contamination.

Tip #2- If it will take more than 30 minutes to get home, keep an insulated cooler in the car to keep beef and other perishables cold until it reaches your fridge.  Be sure to grocery shop last on your list of errands!

Tip #3- Properly store raw beef in the fridge or freezer.  Keep raw beef cold until time of preparation. Your fridge temp should be 40˚F or less.  Try to use fresh beef within two days; otherwise freeze until needed. You can freeze beef in its original packaging up to two weeks. For longer storage, wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil or in plastic freezer bags, removing as much air as possible.

Tip #4- If frozen, defrost beef in refrigerator (allow at least a day by placing frozen package on a plate or tray to catch any juices), microwave oven, as part of cooking, or under cold running water. Never thaw or defrost beef at room temperature.

Follow these simple steps to thaw ground beef

Follow these simple steps to thaw ground beef

Tip #5- Prepare beef on a clean work surface. Use separate knives, cutting boards and cook ware for cooked beef and raw beef to avoid potential cross- contamination. Wash your hands, knives, cutting boards and cook ware in hot soapy water after each use. Cutting boards can be sanitized with a bleach solution (2 tsp of concentrated chlorine bleach in one gallon of water).

Tip #6- Use plastic cutting boards for cutting all raw beef products because wood grains can harbor bacteria and are harder to keep clean.

Tip #7- Wash your hands before and after handling raw beef with soap and warm water (lather for at least 10 seconds or sing “happy birthday”).

Tip #8- To enjoy safe and savory ground beef, remember to use a thermometer as color won’t always indicate doneness.

Tip #9- Cook ground beef to a minimum of 160˚F, using an instant read meat thermometer. For ground beef patties, insert the thermometer into the center of the patty. Steaks and roasts should be cooked to at least an internal temperature of 145˚F, using an instant read meat thermometer and let rest for three minutes before serving.

Tip #10-Be sure to wrap or store leftovers in airtight containers promptly after serving (within two hours after cooking). Keep refrigerated and use within three days.

For more information on purchasing and cooking beef or how to defrost beef, visit Beef ItsWhatsForDinner.com or the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) food safety fact sheets.

USDA Food Safety Inspectors are Required at All Federally-Inspected Beef Processing Plants

Myth: I don’t trust the safety of our meat supply because there are no guidelines in place for slaughter or inspection.

The Facts: The United States has worked hard to have one of the safest food supplies in the world. The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is required by law to provide inspection for all federally-regulated beef establishments. Without the inspector present, the establishment cannot process cattle for beef.

The Federal Meat Inspection Act, requires USDA inspectors to provide inspection of all live animals before they enter the slaughter establishment.  The inspector evaluates the animals to ensure they are healthy and fit for slaughter.  If animals are sick or have an injury the USDA inspector will deem the animal as not fit for human consumption, and the animal will not enter the food supply.

After the animal is slaughtered a USDA inspector will perform additional inspections to ensure the safety of the beef carcass. Once approved, the carcass is stamped with a non-toxic ink stamp to show that the animal has passed the USDA inspections. If a carcass does not pass the USDA inspections it is condemned, stamped as such, and does not enter the food supply.

All meat products are inspected by USDA inspectors before they leave the federally-regulated establishment.


Everyone plays an important role in the safety of our beef supply.  Cattlemen and women continually invest in beef safety research to expand the knowledge of beef safety.  The beef industry spends more than $550 million annual on safety research and implementation of beef safety interventions.  The Government provides food safety inspectors in all federally-regulated establishments and enforces the Agency’s regulations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act.  Consumers also play an important role in beef safety and should keep products refrigerated, surface areas clean and use a meat thermometer to ensure proper cooking of a safe product that American families can enjoy on their dinner table.

Myth Busted: Is There Meat From 100 Cows in My Hamburger?

Myth:  Beef from 100 cows is in my ground beef patty, which makes it less safe for me to consume.

The Facts:    All ground beef trim must meet stringent food safety guidelines set forth by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), therefore the number of cows whose lean trim is used doesn’t represent the safety of your food.

Ground beef, commonly used in hamburgers and tacos, is made from beef trim that results when steaks and roasts are cut. In order to get the right mix of lean to fat processors combine trim from a number of different animals. For example, a majority of the trim from grain-finished beef cattle in the U.S. has higher fat content than trim from dairy cows or cattle from countries with grass-finished production systems, such as Australia and New Zealand. Trim from these animals is combined to create ground beef in a variety of lean to fat ratios, such as 80/20 or 90/10, to meet consumer demand. When it comes to safety, all of the trim, regardless of the source, must meet USDA safety and inspection standards and go through intervention processes to prevent contamination.

Our food system comprises various sources. A carton of milk contains milk from a number of different cows. A glass of orange juice contains juice from a number of different oranges and a loaf of bread contains wheat from many different acres of a wheat field. However, the USDA food safety procedures that our food supply undergoes, including ground beef, help prevent any harm to consumers and you can be confident in the safety of your ground beef.

Consumers also play an important role in food safety. Make sure you’re preparing ground beef and preventing potential foodborne illness by:

  • Properly refrigerate beef until time of preparation
  • Prepare beef on a clean work surface
  • Follow guidelines on beef cooking temperatures and test the internal temperature of beef as it cooks. Safe and savory ground beef should be cooked to 160 F, measured with an instant read meat thermometer. Color and juices are not an accurate way to determine doneness.
  • Store and refrigerate leftovers in an air-tight container

Safety First: The Role of GMO’s in Cattle Feed

Myth: Feeding cattle genetically modified (GMO) crops is unhealthy for the animals and results in unsafe beef. The Facts:  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) or biotechnology in plant agriculture is the process of taking a desirable trait in one plant or organism and placing it into another.  Biotechnology is used to create traits that make crops more tolerable or resistant to plant disease, pests and environmental conditions such as drought and crop protection (herbicides). cattle_feedThese advancements in breeding and seed technologies often allow farmers to use less crop protection tools such as plant fertilizers, pesticides, as well as less natural resources such as the water required to grow crops.. Crops from biotechnology seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment before they reach the farm or ranch.  All biotechnologies in agriculture must go through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make sure that they are safe to grow, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review to make sure that they’re safe for the environment and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to make sure the meat from cattle fed GMO crops, such as corn and soybeans, is safe to eat. Learn more about GMO crops:

1. How and why do livestock producers use GMO crops? For 10,000 years, farmers have intentionally changed the genetic makeup of all the crops they grow to produce hardier crops that taste better, resist disease and are easier to grow all while taking up less land. As selective breeding and cross-breeding of crops evolved, more U.S. soybean crops (94% in 2014, the latest data available) and U.S. corn crops (93% in 2014, the latest data available) were grown from GMO seed. Today, eight crops – corn, soybeans, cotton, canola, alfalfa, sugar beets, papaya and squash – are available from biotech seeds for commercial use in the U.S.

Today, farmers and ranchers that raise meat, milk and eggs depend on crops like soybeans and corn as part of the balanced diet for their livestock. So, some of them choose to use GMO crops as critical components in their animal’s feed—others may choose not to use them.

2. How do I know that GMO crops are safe for the animals and safe for humans?  Crops from biotech seeds are studied extensively to make sure they are safe for people, animals and the environment before they can be sold.

According to FDA, “FDA has no basis for concluding that bioengineered foods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding.”

3. Are there any nutritional differences between GMO crops and non-GMO crops? More than 100 studies have examined the effect of feeding GMO crops to various food-producing animals, including cattle.  One such study is from the University of California, Davis titled Genetic Engineering and Animal Feed [PDF]. The results of this study and the others revealed no significant differences in the nutritional value of feed from GMO and non-GMO fed cattle.  Genetically modified GMO crops are digested and processed by cattle in the same way as conventional crops. In addition, the nutrients from cattle fed GMO feed have been found to be the same as cattle fed non-GMO feeds.

4. Why isn’t my meat labeled as “Fed GMO feed”? According to the USDA, labeling is required when the genetically modified food products have a detectible difference in nutritional composition and safety from their non-GMO counterparts.  Since there is no difference, there is no labeling requirement.

5. Can I purchase beef from cattle not fed genetically modified food? Yes, you can.  When shopping, look for beef labeled USDA Organic. The USDA National Organic Program standards prohibit the use of feeding genetically modified crops, although hundreds of studies have confirmed there are no adverse effects on the animal or the resulting meat from cattle fed GMO crops including corn and soybeans, so regardless of whether you choose organic, natural or conventional beef, all beef is safe to consume, delicious and nutritious.

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