The main points made in the Tyson letter, which was addressed to “cattle feeders” with the subject line of “animal well being,” and signed by John Gerber, director of cattle procurement for Tyson Fresh Meats, were:

• “There have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move. We do not know the specific cause of these problems, but some animal health experts have suggested that the use of the feed supplement Zilmax, also known as zilpaterol, is one possible cause. 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.

 • “This is not a food safety issue. It is about animal well-being and ensuring the proper treatment of the livestock we depend on to operate. If you have any questions, please contact your Tyson Fresh Meats cattle buyer.”

The Tyson announcement came at a particularly curious time. With today’s relatively tight numbers and high feed prices, the additional weight per animal that beta agonists add to closeout weights have been exceedingly welcome. As Troy Marshall opines in BEEF Cow-Calf Weekly, “the reason the industry has seen such a major move toward the use of beta-agonists is the tremendous economic incentive to do so. Most of that weight gain ends up as carcass weight, and disproportionately in the retail case. That makes the value difference significant.”

In addition, at the time of the Tyson announcement, cattle producers were meeting in Denver to discuss the role and the industry’s position on the use of beta-agonists. Consensus seemed to be that the science and demonstrated safety behind these FDA-approved products supported their continued use, but any related animal well-being concerns should be investigated.

The CME Group’s Meyer points out that the situation underscores the times we live in.

“‘I’m using an approved product according to the label!’ is no longer an acceptable response to concerns over animal well-being. We economists would term approval and proper usage as ‘necessary but not sufficient’ conditions in today’s culture. Just as we no longer have the authority to ‘do what I darn well please’ with the animals we own, we also must judge the impact of approved, safe products on animal and human well-being and take actions appropriate for the times – whether we like it or not.”

 

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