My View From The Country

Beef Industry Faces A Dilemma Over Use Of Beta-Agonists

The issue of beta-agonists will be the center of a discussion at next week’s mid-year conference in Denver.

Most cattle producers can’t accurately describe what a beta-agonist is or does, but they can attest to the fact that they work at increasing efficiency and pounds – and at a rate simply short of amazing. With that said, the issue of beta-agonists, as well as hormones, isn’t a simple one as there also are consumer perception issues, trade issues, and quality concerns as well, associated with their use.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the industry have been diligently working on this subject for quite some time, with special task forces and working groups formed and deliberating. In fact, some of those efforts will be discussed in detail at next week’s mid-summer conference in Denver.

From an industry standpoint, there’s been a lot of discussion about perceptions vs. reality regarding these products. There’s also been a growing realization within the cattle industry that perception often trumps reality when it comes to consumer acceptance and its economic ramifications for the industry. Of course, a recent, and the most classic, example is last summer’s debacle over lean finely textured beef.

We’re operating in a different type of world today, one where issues are often created, and where competing scientific views are given equal weight regardless of their validity. The whole hormone issue has really never been about the science. It began as a trade barrier by Europe in its quest to protect its domestic cattle industry from the threat of imports. Even Europe’s own scientific body found no justification for the position on growth promotants, and the World Trade Organization upheld a U.S. complaint on the issue. Nonetheless, from there, the issue has blossomed into a worldwide public relations nightmare.

One of the fastest-growing segments of our business has been natural product lines, and it’s no coincidence that JBS announced this week the launch of a website promoting its premium Cedar RiverFarms® Natural Beef Program. It’s almost ironic that most of the larger feedyards have almost divided their production between natural cattle and those undergoing a more aggressive approach. 

If you’re curious about the potential magnitude of this issue, you don’t have to go any farther than this article you’re reading. As I write this, I’m consciously trying to not write anything potentially usable against the industry by anti-beef activists. While I know the benefits and the science of these technologies, I’m also aware that the misconceptions and perceptions out there make this a difficult issue to discuss.


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I am so far removed from the typical consumer that I’m not someone who could speak accurately about how consumers may perceive something. However, I know that if I feel the need to write cautiously, that should raise a red flag in my mind. 

In today’s environment, the question has shifted; it isn’t so much about the science and reality as it is about the potential risk and whether consumers and the media can be effectively educated prior to the development of a public relations nightmare. It can also be justifiably argued that making decisions based on the opposition’s ability to distort public perceptions is a very dangerous precedent.

The industry should be commended for being proactive and attempting to address potential problems before they surface. For instance, according to some experts, NCBA’s previously prepared response to BSE saved the industry billions of dollars. It is a careful balancing act, however, to adequately educate and prepare for such issues, without elevating the issue in the minds of consumers.

This is one of those issues where gathering the facts and coming up with answers isn’t necessarily difficult. The challenge is trying to figure out how to use the facts and implement a strategy that serves the industry well in both the short and long term, and accepting that the right answer may or may not align with the facts.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 12

Terry O'Neill (not verified)
on Aug 2, 2013

Troy,nice timely article.At a time when society in general can not trust any one in a leadership position where that be in colleges,high school,local,state or national politics it is a bit much to ask one to believe the promoters of a drug injected into cattle(your food supply) .When tis same story profits the promoter and the user it continues to be a bit much. Thus the story might be true but the tainted environment dirties the picture.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Aug 2, 2013

When knowledge and belief conflict, belief will prevail.

Belief is always out at the edge of knowledge. And the edge is always moving.
This movement should be limited only by our capacity to learn rather than by any prohibitions against learning created by a preexisting belief.
Learning is hardest when we have to change what we thought we already knew!

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Aug 2, 2013

I need education. I cannot imagine how beta agonists would promote beef production or harm consumers of beef so treated unless a long acting form has been developed that stays in the flesh longer than the few I know about. IF that is true, then there would be harm to eaters sensitive to the adrenalin-like effect, might kill somebody with a bad heart of help an asthmatic!

Dennis Hoyle (not verified)
on Aug 2, 2013

I don't think we need to educate the consumer, we need to listen to the consumer. Remember the customer is always right. I eat my own beef, no hormones, antibiotics, ionophores, beta antagonists or corn for that matter. I like it that way and so do my customers.

Roanboy (not verified)
on Aug 12, 2013

How many custormers do you have? What the size of your herd? Will your sale of this product support you and your family?

on Aug 2, 2013

This article just nag, nag, ...nag and doesn't say much. After reading it, I can forget it immediately. This media should be to promote knowledge, that is what Mr. John R. Dykers, Jr is asking for.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Aug 12, 2013

And I reread the article and find no information about beta agonists, only opinion about perceptions.

on Aug 4, 2013

Anne at feedyardfoodie has several good explanations of bata agonists.
They are fed daily according to label and withdrawn prior to marketing. The restrictions put limits on marketing timing.
There are no risky residues.

John R. Dykers, Jr (not verified)
on Aug 4, 2013

sounds like what I would expect from what I do know. Just no experience in using beta agonist in cattle.

on Aug 29, 2014

I need information. I cannot think about how try out agonists would enhance meat manufacturing or damage clients of meat so handled unless a lengthy performing type has been designed that remains in the skin more time than the few I know about. Here

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What's My View From The Country?

As a fulltime rancher, opinion contributor Troy Marshall brings a unique perspective on how consumer and political trends affect livestock production.


Troy Marshall

Troy Marshall is a multi-generational rancher who grew up in Wheatland, WY, and obtained an Equine Science/Animal Science degree from Colorado State University where he competed on both the livestock...

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