A very disturbing, to me at least, bit of news crossed my desk and I have to say I’m perplexed! New rules are now being proposed to dis-allow all farmers from using any antibiotics to treat sick animals without having what is known as a “Veterinary-Client-Patient relationship” (VCPr).
A little bit of history here folks! In the U.S. we use more antibiotics in animal food production than any other nation. Roughly, over 80% of all antibiotics produced in the U.S. are used in industrial animal production. Notice I said “industrial”! Almost all concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFO) administer sub-therapeutic antibiotics routinely whether the animals need them or not.
There are several reasons behind the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics two of which come to mind are for the purpose of rapid weight gain and because the animals are raised in confinement in very large numbers in their own urine and feces. The drugs are not used to treat individual sick animals they are an attempt to correct the consequences of industrial confined animal production.
Mind you, corporations make these decisions not the farmers who contract to raise company animals. Going back to the time when I raised chickens under contract I can remember feed delivered by the company, before baby chicks were delivered, had antibiotics in it. I used to think to myself that the company knew that the chicks would be sick before they arrived on the farm!
This abuse of antibiotics used in industrial animal production which are medically important and resistance of bacteria to medically important antibiotics is a rising public health crisis. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has legislation, “Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act” (PAMTA), a vitally important piece of legislation which would ban the use of 8 major classes of antibiotics on healthy livestock with exceptions to treat sick animals. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is also working on plans to phase out the overuse of some classes of antibiotics given to animals in feed and water. However FDA’s plan is voluntary. Not the magic bullet but it’s a beginning.
For many years, I’ve been a strong proponent of ending the overuse of antibiotics in industrial animal production, working with several organizations and the public health sector, to this end. Unfortunately, I have to part ways on this latest proposal, VCPr. It appears as if there is illogical reasoning behind the proposal. In other words, it lacks “common sense”!
VCPr requires that a vet have sufficient knowledge of the animals in question to be able to diagnose the medical condition and that the vet must be personally acquainted with the keeping and care of the animals to be treated. A timely examination of the animals by the vet or medically appropriate and timely visits by the vet to the operation where the animals are managed is required. This sounds good and will work for industrial animal production as all large companies have vets on staff. A perfect solution for industrial agriculture!
As a small independent farmer there are several reasons why I oppose the proposal. Firstly, I don’t have a vet on staff, as a matter of fact, I don’t have any staff! In my area of the country which is nothing but concentrated industrial chicken production, there are no independent poultry vets. This is the case in most areas of the country. A knowledgeable poultry vet is rare and is a specialty field of veterinary medicine. I could ask for a Sate Veterinarian but who knows if one would be available, if there is any such person, or if the vet could arrive in a timely manner to treat my sick chicken.
Small independent farmers don’t routinely feed antibiotics to their animals. It’s a fact! In my operation, I’ve never had the need for antibiotic treatment because the chickens have plenty of room, fresh air, sunshine, and indoor/outdoor access at will. However, should I have a sick chicken that I was unable to give treatment on my own, as proposed under VCPr, I would have to let the animal suffer and die or immediately euthanize an otherwise recoverable animal, not being able to meet the requirements of the proposal. I find that highly disturbing and I’m not alone in this thought.
Given the choice between treating a sick animal or letting it die will induce farmers to find antibiotics from other sources whether it be legal or not. A black market for animal antibiotics in the making!
Lastly, each year I spend up to $500 for a vet to come to the farm. Routine checkups are conducted on my 2 horses and 3 cats as well as any vaccinations they are due. Although I don’t know where I would find one, if I had to have a vet come and give routine checkups on each of my chickens I can’t imagine what the bill might be. Suffice it to say it would cost me right out of business. In addition I’m curious to know how the vet would know which chicken was which. I mean really, for the most part they all look alike!
The thoughts behind the proposed VCPr may have been well conceived in the world of “think tankers” however it’s readily seen that no thought was given or input solicited from small farmers. If the aim of the proposal is to endorse industrial animal production, it will. They have vets. If the thought was to not support and encourage small sustainable farms with high animal welfare practices the proposal accomplishes it. I can’t say what the thought process was however I can say that the proposed VCPr needs to be re-thought!