dairy cows

Dairy cows eating feed on a Lancaster County farm.

Lancaster County livestock owners, large-animal veterinarians and feed companies are scrambling this week to adjust to a sweeping new federal law to remove vast quantities of antibiotics from reaching the human food chain.

Animals grown for food in the U.S. now have to essentially get a prescription, like their human counterparts, before being given a long list of medications, including antibiotics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration initiative, years in the making and with much pushback, is designed to combat the overuse of antibiotics that have led to disease-causing bacteria developing resistance to the widespread medical treatment.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1,  seeks to weed out medications that were often placed in feed and water to spur growth and weight gain, and to prevent sicknesses, in cattle, poultry and pigs.

Such medications must now be administered only for animal-health purposes. The most unpopular part of the law requires farmers to get prescriptions from veterinarians on a case-by-case basis.

Much paperwork is involved and it will cost farmers more.

“Nobody is very happy with it because it’s a change and now they have to hire a veterinarian and it means more money and it’s a hassle,” said Mauricio Rosales, a dairy educator in the Lancaster office of Penn State Extension.

“It’s affecting everyone.

“The issue is the record-keeping that comes with it. It’s like if aspirin became a prescription drug,” added Jeff Stoltzfus, a farm food safety specialist in the Extension office.

“What we’re really overwhelmed with is really an awful lot of questions,” Brian Reed, co-owner of Agricultural Veterinary Associates in Lititz.

“There’s so much ambiguities out there among producers and feed manufacturers,” he said. “Sometimes the solution is no longer to use antibiotics in feed. It’s more effective to treat individual animals when they get sick, rather than the blanket treatments in the feed as was done in the past.”

Reed said he’s not finding much animosity among those calling the office in the past week. “Mostly, it’s just confusion and people just don’t like change.”

There have been concerns that livestock veterinarians would be overwhelmed. But Reed said most of the practice’s clients are large-herd farmers who use a veterinarian regularly.

At Wenger Feeds, the large animal feed company based in Rheems, the company has been bracing for the law for a year.

Computers have been retooled to alert feed workers if an order comes in with a now-banned antibiotic. The company, which sells about 35,000 tons of feed weekly throughout the Mid-Atlantic, also has hired a consulting vet to help match vets with farmers who don’t have one retained.

No one is happy about the vast paperwork that is required from feed manufacturers, farmers and veterinarians, said James L. Adams, vice chairman of the board of The Wenger Group.

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