Tyson to ban cattle fed with Zilmax
By Doug Rich
In a recent letter to cattle feeders Tyson announced it would not accept cattle fed with Zilmax (zilpaterol hydrochloride) after Sept. 6.
The letter stated that this is not a food safety issue but an animal well-being issue. According to Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson Foods, there have been instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move. Although the letter to cattle feeders said that the specific cause of these problems is not known, animal health experts have suggested that the use of Zilmax is one possible cause.
“As you know, animal well-being is extremely important to our business,” the letter stated. “This is why we want to express our continued concerns about the receipt of cattle that become non-ambulatory or lame at some of our beef plants. Our evaluation of these problems is ongoing but as an interim measure we plan to suspend our purchases of cattle that have been fed Zilmax.”
Zilmax is a Food and Drug Administration–approved feed supplement marketed by Merck. According to the Merck marketing website, Zilmax has been approved for use by cattle farmers globally for more than two decades and was approved for use in the U.S. in 2007. Zilmax is fed to cattle for a short period of time when they become less efficient at metabolizing their feed and typically gain excess fat.
According to the website when feed containing Zilmax is consumed it attaches to a specific receptor on muscle tissue, much like fitting a key into a lock. This signals the muscle to use the energy from the feed to make more lean beef instead of excess fat.
Zilmax is one of two beta agonist feed supplements approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The other is OptaFlexx (ractopamine hydrochloride) marketed by Elanco.
According to a University of Wisconsin Extension report published in 2011, Zilmax is a more potent beta agonist than Optaflexx. This report stated that research has not observed any negative effects on animal conformation. However, cattle with poor skeletal structure (post legged, straight fronted) may have problems with the added muscle.
The official statement from Merck about Zilmax stated, “The benefits and safety of Zilmax are well documented. Zilmax has a 30 plus year history of research and development and rigorous testing. Worldwide regulatory agencies have reviewed extensive data on Zilmax and have concluded that the use of Zilmax, according to the label, is safe in cattle.
“We are surprised by Tyson’s letter. We are confident that, based on all of the available data on Zilmax, the experience reported by Tyson is not attributable to Zilmax. Indeed Tyson itself points to the fact that there are other possible causes and that it does not know the specific cause of the issues it recently experienced. We will continue to work with Tyson to help it identify those others causes.”
Tyson purchases nearly 26 percent of all the cattle coming out of feedlots in the U.S. It is still too early to tell what effect this decision will have on the beef market.
“Right now, if Tyson is the only one to stop utilizing the product, it is worth about 50 cents to $1 on the fed market,” Mike Murphy, market analyst with CattleFax, said. “If we have other packers that would go ahead and follow suit and everyone stops using the Zilmax product then we have to decide how much more OptaFlexx is being utilized. If you think some Optaflexx is being utilized then you get up to about $2.50 per hundredweight on the fed cattle market.”
“Right now it is kind of early because we have not heard from either JBS or National on what they expect to do,” Murphy said. “We need to give it time to see what the next step is.”
On Aug. 12 National Beef released the following statement:
“Recently, concerns have been raised regarding Zilmax, an FDA approved feed supplement widely used by farmers and ranchers throughout the beef community, and its possible effect on animal well-being. National Beef places a high priority on animal welfare with cattle in our facilities and we do not plan to change our cattle procurement practices.”
In their official statement Cargill officials stated that animal welfare is a top priority for them, as well.
“Cargill has not experienced an animal well-being incident that we could directly link to the use of Zilmax,” the statement said. “We are monitoring the situation closely and are working with leading industry experts to gather more information to better understand the facts surround the incident.”
Murphy said that if Tyson were the only packer to ban cattle fed Zilmax it would not have a huge impact on the retail beef supply. He said it would not be a market changer by any means.
“If the other packers continue to use the product, whether it is a regional packer or the majors, there will be more people that want to put cattle into their systems,” Murphy said.
Doug Rich can be reached by phone at 785-749-5304, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.