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.

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.

When grilling beef at home, is it safe to say that beef is done when it’s brown all the way through or feels warm to the touch? Color and touch are not accurate ways to determine the doneness of a steak, roast or hamburger.

Myth: My hamburger or steak is done when it’s brown in the middle or warm to the touch.

The Facts: Internal temperature is the only way to tell when your hamburger, steak or other beef products are properly cooked.

Color and juices are not an accurate way to determine the doneness of beef. Color can change for a variety of reasons including oxygen exposure, preparation method or added seasonings.

Similarly, feeling how warm your steak is on the outside or by cutting into the inside to look at the juices is not an accurate way to determine doneness. Utilizing an instant read meat thermometer is the only way to know that the beef you’re preparing has reached the safe internal temperature.

What are proper internal temperatures for cuts of beef?

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends grilling beef to the following temperatures to ensure a safe and enjoyable beef eating experience:

Ground beef/hamburger –160°F

Steaks – 145°F (medium rare)

Roasts – 145°F (medium rare)

Degree of Doneness

For more tips on how to cook to specific degree of doneness, check out Confident Cooking with Beef.

Always use an instant-read meat thermometer to check the internal temperature – meat thermometers can be purchased at all grocery stores. Be sure to clean and sanitize your meat thermometer between uses.

Are there any other safe food preparation tips I should follow?

Preparing beef for cooking is just as important as cooking and grilling it. When preparing your meal, be sure to use different cutting boards and knives for meat and produce and wash them with hot soapy water between uses. An easy way to remember food safety guidelines is to Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. This process ensures a safe eating experience for you and your family. After your meal is over, refrigerate leftovers in order to enjoy safe beef for lunch the next day!

Beta-agonists, Zilmax and Optaflexx, and Cattle: How Targeted Use Results in Leaner Beef

Myth: Beta-agonists cause cattle to grow unnaturally large and are bad for my health.

The Facts: Zilmax and Optaflexx, which are beta-agonists, are animal feed ingredients that help cattle make the most of the food they eat resulting in more lean muscle instead of fat. They have been proven safe for cattle and humans.

Cattle farmers use these feed additives in targeted ways, only adding small amounts to the animals’ feed at a specific time in their lives. They are metabolized quickly by cattle so they are not stored in the body over time. Beta-agonists are approved for use in the United States, Canada and two dozen other countries across the developed world.

Get the top five facts behind beta-agonists in cattle:

1. What are beta-agonists and what do they do? A beta-agonist is simply a feed ingredient given to some cattle to help the animals make the most of the food they eat (ractopamine and zilpaterol are examples of beta agonists approved for use in cattle). When cattle are young, they use their food to build muscle, but as they age they begin to instead put on more fat. Beta-agonists help cattle maintain their natural muscle-building ability, resulting in the leaner beef that consumers demand.

2. How and why are they used? Beta-agonists, a feed additive, can be used as part of a healthy, balanced diet for cattle according to label guidelines. The decision to use this feed ingredient is an individual one that every farmer/rancher/feedyard manager makes in consultation with their veterinarian and animal nutritionist.

  • Many factors guide the decision to use beta-agonists, including type and condition of cattle, customer expectations (yield and quality grades), as well as leanness, weather or seasonal conditions, which may affect cattle health and growth.
  • A farm’s environmental goals are also considered because these feed ingredients reduce the farm’s demand on natural resources like land, water, feed and fuel.

Feedyard owner and operator Anne Burkholder of Cozad, Nebraska explains beta-agonists and why she chooses to use them.

3. Do they harm the animal? Animal welfare is a top priority. All animal health products are reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to use in animals to ensure there are no adverse impacts on animal health. Caring for their animals and making sure they grow healthfully is important to the people who raise cattle. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest, too. It’s as simple as this – healthy animals produce high-quality meat.

  • In a feedyard, professional cowboys called “pen riders” ride horseback among their cattle to observe the health of every animal daily to make sure they are getting the care they need.

4. How do I know they are safe? All products used in food animals must go through dozens of studies and be shown to be safe for both animals and humans before approval by the FDA.

In the case of beta-agonists, hundreds of studies have been done. But the evaluation does not stop there.  After animal health products are approved, they are continuously monitored to improve their performance and how they are used. And, since beta-agonists are metabolized quickly by cattle, they aren’t stored in the body over time.

  • The safety of meat from animals fed ractopamine (a beta-agonist) has been affirmed by 28 regulatory bodies, including the international food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was created by the World Health Organization.
  • The U.S. Food Safety and Inspective Service (FSIS) routinely tests meat to ensure its safety.

5. Do beta-agonist fed cattle still produce quality beef? Yes. Today’s beef increasingly meets consumer expectations for a great-tasting meal. The entire beef community is committed to raising the highest-quality beef possible and consistently providing people with great-tasting beef. Learn more about how beef quality is measured.

  • Over the past 20 years, overall beef quality grades (such as Prime or Choice) have steadily improved, thanks to cattle genetics, the way cattle are fed and proper cattle handling to prevent stress.

If you prefer beef from cattle that was not fed a beta-agonist, there are great beef choices available for you in the grocery store. Products labeled USDA organic or “naturally-raised” would not have received any growth promoting product like a beta-agonist. Regardless of the type of beef you choose, you can feel confident that it’s safe, delicious and nutritious.

Investment in Safety Means Beef is Safer From E.Coli

Myth:  Recent E. coli recalls of beef means beef is less safe today than it used to be.

News about recalls of beef because of E. coli may cause concern that beef is not as safe today as it once was. In reality, improvements by the beef community mean that beef is safer today and chance of foodborne illness related to beef has decreased.

The Facts: The safety of the U.S. beef supply continues to improve due to the commitment of the beef community and oversight from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The beef community has a long-standing commitment to providing the public with the safest beef possible – a pledge that is backed by research, best practices and public education.

Here are some answers to common questions about recalls of beef due to E. coli: [Read more…]

Drugs in meat? Not so. Farmers and ranchers work with veterinarians and animal nutritionists in order to protect the health of their animals and the health of consumers.

Myth: Drugs in meat including, growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics are overused in order to make them grow bigger and faster. It’s not good for the animals or for consumer food safety.

You may be concerned about how drugs you have heard of, such as growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics, are used on today’s farms and ranches and whether this means there are drugs in meat.

The Facts: Farmers and ranchers are committed to working with veterinarians and nutritionists to make the right decisions about the care and development of their animals. That includes the targeted use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or keep animals healthy. Also growth promotants such as growth hormones in cattle or feed additives like beta-agonists can help cattle convert the nutrients in their feed to lean muscle. Farmers and ranchers use these tested and proven tools carefully and in compliance with stringent safe use policies set and enforced by the government.

Final Checks and Balances 8 21 13

Is the use of growth hormones in cattle safe?

[Read more…]

Why Am I Hearing About “Mechanically Tenderized” Beef?

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been “mechanically tenderized.” Restaurants, retailers, food service facilities, beef purveyors and their patrons will now have even more information about the beef products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them. This rule, beginning May 17, now requires that raw beef product that has been mechanically tenderized include the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized” or “needle tenderized” on the package and include cooking instructions.

What is Mechanically Tenderized Meat?

Mechanically tenderized meat simply means that the meat has been pierced with needles, or small blades, in order to break up the muscle tissue for a more tender beef-eating experience. You may remember your grandmother doing something similar with a small meat mallet in her kitchen. Check out the video that explains more about mechanically tenderized meat.


Why is Meat Mechanically Tenderized?

Tenderness is one of the reasons people love beef. Some cuts, such as the lean sirloin cut, are a little less tender than other cuts, such as the very tender ribeye. This tenderness is dependent on a variety of factors – where the cut comes from on the carcass, the age or genetics of the animal and degree of marbling. Meat has been tenderized by hand in kitchens for generations. Today’s beef community uses a similar technique on a broader scale – mechanical tenderization – to offer more consistently tender beef options to more consumers. According to USDA data, about 11 percent or 2.6 billion pounds of beef products sold in the United States are mechanically tenderized. See the video below that discusses the different tenderness profiles of common beef cuts or check out the Interactive Butcher Counter to see which cuts are the most or least naturally tender.


What does this new rule mean for me?

This new rule shouldn’t change the way that you buy beef – you may just see more information on the label than you have in the past. Tenderized beef products are often sold at restaurants or foodservice establishments, but they can also be sold at supermarkets and grocery stores. Mechanically tenderized beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a three-minute rest time, so if you’re cooking it at home, be sure to follow those directions. If you’re ordering beef in a restaurant, the restaurant should always cook beef to the optimal food safety temperature.

For more information on this new rule, you can read USDA’s blog post on the topic. Also, check out the USDA infographic below.

 

 

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