CHICAGO. Michigan dairy farmer Doug Chapin has been unable to buy bottled veterinary penicillin for his cows for over a month.
In Minnesota, pig breeder Randy Spronk has changed his diets due to a shortage of the widely used ingredient lysine, an amino acid that helps livestock grow.
Supply chain disruptions are hitting American meat producers looking for alternatives as they strive to care for farm animals and keep costs down.
The shortage of some drugs, such as penicillin, partly reflects competition for raw materials between humans and animals, as the COVID-19 pandemic reshapes demand and disrupts global trade due to shipping congestion and port bottlenecks.
Supply problems, in turn, are causing veterinarians to question established farming practices and are forcing changes in the food sector. Smithfield Foods of the WH Group, the world’s largest pork producer, told Reuters it sees shortages and replaces products and producers when needed to maintain animal care.
Farmers in farming states including Iowa and Minnesota are struggling to find lysine, which tends to be a cheaper feed alternative to soybean meal.
According to Archer-Daniels-Midland, the main supply problems are with dry lysine products from China. A Chicago-based commodity trader stopped producing dry lysine this year and is selling a liquid version.
Farmers like Spronk are feeding pigs more soybean meal at a higher price to replace dry lysine. The change helped lift soybean meal futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to a four-month high on Wednesday.
“It got to the point where manufacturers literally have to change the formulation to extract the lysine, or lower the lysine level to try to increase it,” Spronk said. “You cannot understand it.”
Fight for supplies
As for medications, Chapin and his family are trying to stock up on penicillin and other foods in case the animals get sick. Penicillin, one of the most commonly used drugs in animal husbandry, can treat respiratory problems and other conditions.
“I always thought the next bottle would be a phone call away,” Chapin said.
The widespread shortage of penicillin across the country has created problems for cattle and dairies, said Patrick Gorden, president of the American Association of Cattle Practitioners. Veterinarians have struggled to find even several vials of Pen-G, an injectable antibiotic for treating sick cattle, sheep and pigs.
Similar shortages are seen in some tetracyclines, a class of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections in farm animals, veterinarians say.
“In some cases, we looked at alternatives to therapy or discussed whether this treatment is really that effective or even necessary,” Gorden said.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists nine veterinary drug shortages since the pandemic. The agency said it has contacted manufacturers and does not know when they will resolve supply issues.
“This shortage should not limit the ability of veterinarians to provide appropriate treatment or euthanasia to pets or livestock,” said Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
But the food and pharmaceutical industries are feeling the impact.
The world’s largest veterinary company Zoetis Inc. does not manufacture penicillin products, but reported “local restrictions” on other products as the pandemic affected supply chains. The company declined to name the drugs.
The Irish manufacturer Bimeda Inc. There are two veterinary penicillins on the FDA’s drug shortage list, including Pro-Pen-G.
Bimeda spokesman Mary van Dijk said North American and Chinese suppliers of the FDA-approved material used to make penicillin faced supply disruptions earlier this year. She declined to name the material. The Chinese supplier also had quality issues that took about six months to resolve, she said.
Another problem is that the raw materials commonly used to make antibiotics for animals were directed towards the production of amoxicillin for humans, van Dijk said. The drugs use common starting materials and demand for human amoxicillin has increased during the pandemic, she said.
Amoxicillin can be used to treat ear infections in children, sore throat, and other conditions.
“The supply disruptions are not completely resolved,” said van Dijk.
P.J. Huffstatter and Tom Polansek