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FDA Regulates Use of Antimicrobials in Poultry Feed and Water

Hen Drinking water

As of January 2017, backyard chicken keepers will have fewer options for treating sick birds. New regulations restrict the use of any antimicrobial that is administered by means of feed or water.

More than 280 livestock products marketed by 26 companies are affected by this rule.

According to two guidance documents —  #209 and #213 — released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), the intent of the regulation is to restrict the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals. Henceforth, the use of these drugs is strictly limited to therapeutic purposes that are “considered necessary for assuring animal health.” Further, their administration must include oversight by or consultation with a veterinarian who is licensed in the state where the poultry reside.

The designation of “medically important” antimicrobials is based on the significance of these drugs in human medicine. The FDA rule arises out of concerns that the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals has contributed to an increasing drug resistance in disease-causing organisms to medications that are needed for treating illness in humans.

If you think this rule does not apply to you because you consider the few chickens in your backyard as pets and not as food-producing animals, you would be wrong. All poultry keepers, no matter how small or large their flock, are affected by this regulation. It involves any antimicrobial used in poultry feed or water, with the exception of ionophores (antimicrobials added to feed to control coccidiosis), the bambermycins (antibiotics used in industrial broiler production to increase rate of weight gain and feed efficiency), and bacitracin (an antibiotic used for poultry primarily to prevent and control the disease necrotic enteritis).

The use of any other antimicrobial must be authorized by a veterinarian who is familiar with your backyard flock.

This requirement involves a major change in the marketing status of over-the-counter (OTC) antimicrobials. Some antibiotics currently used to treat diseased chickens will no longer be available at all. The water soluble antibiotics remaining on the market will require a veterinary prescription. Antimicrobials administered in or on feed will require a veterinary feed directive (VFD) — a written statement by a licensed veterinarian authorizing the drug’s purchase and use. Not affected are such medications as dewormers (piperazine) and coccidiostats (amprolium).

The biggest challenge for the backyard poultry keeper is to find a local veterinarian who knows much about chickens, or is even willing to deal with poultry issues. The details of exactly how a veterinarian is to oversee the treatment of poultry with antimicrobials are left to each state, and therefore are likely to vary from one state to another.

And that’s today’s news from the Cackle Coop.

Gail Damerow, author, The Chicken Health Handbook

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