My View From The Country

Industry Keeps Its Cool Amid Zilmax™ Ban, Angus Defects

If Tyson remains the only packer banning the use of Zilmax™ among its suppliers, it puts itself at a significant competitive disadvantage.

What a difference perspective makes. I say this because I believe that two events occurring over the last two weeks would have created – in an earlier time – widespread hysteria and, possibly, industry overreaction.

The first event occurred when Tyson announced it would no longer buy finished cattle fed the beta agonist Zilmax, effective Sept. 6. The letter to cattle feeders cited animal welfare concerns as a result of some animals arriving for slaughter that exhibited mobility issues. 

There’s been discussion within the industry about this issue for a little while now, so there’s really no reason to suspect that Tyson’s new policy is motivated by other motives. There’s also been ample speculation that the animal welfare concern provided the nation’s largest fed-cattle processor with the opportunity to address something it feels could become a public relation problem in the future. If that’s the case, Tyson’s timing was terrible.

With today’s relatively tight numbers, the additional 30 lbs./animal that Zilmax provides is impossible to ignore. After all, 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.

Initially, many thought that other major packers would follow Tyson’s lead – a sort of domino effect. However, the economic incentive not to do so apparently is too significant, as Cargill, National Beef and JBS have announced they won’t adopt Tyson’s policy.

If Tyson remains the only packer banning the use of Zilmax among its suppliers, it puts itself at a significant competitive disadvantage. The question then becomes whether Tyson can continue its policy if the science isn’t forthcoming to back its position.

Fortunately, the overall industry remained true to the basic tenet that decisions be grounded in sound science. In addition, media coverage of the issue has thus far been minimal, though some activist groups are trying to stir up interest.


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The bottom line is that cooler heads prevailed, action was initiated, and it appears the litany of concerns that were legitimately expressed at the time of the announcement have been avoided thus far.

The second news event is the Angus announcement that a genetic defect (polymelia) was found in the breed, at a relatively high frequency, and with some popular bloodlines among the carriers. Several years ago, when another defect (Arthrogryposis Multiplex, commonly known as Curly Calf Syndrome)was announced, the industry overreacted. The result was that many breeders were financially devastated, and a lot of good genetics were summarily discarded.

Perspective is a wonderful thing because, since then, the industry has learned that the technology that allowed it to identify these defects also provides the capability to deal with them without any major hardship for breeders or commercial producers. We’ve also discovered that as DNA technology continues to advance, we’ll discover that virtually every animal out there is the carrier of one or more genetic defects.

Today’s technologies will allow us to alleviate problems, and we are likely to see some fairly dramatic increases in reproductive results in the future as a result. Thankfully, this time, the devastating over-reaction that occurred in the past was successfully avoided.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 16

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 16, 2013

The best way to decrease demand for any product is to tell customers what they should want instead of listening to what they really want. Is Tyson listening to consumers, or does it simply have a deal with Elanco, maker of Optaflexx? Whichever it is, the big corporate players in the beef industry are always out to get maximum pounds and maximum profits at whatever cost to cattlemen and to consumer confidence. Keep feeding beta agonists and the beef feedlot industry will lose even more consumers. We are what we eat. What mother in her right mind would knowingly feed her child beef grown with zilpaterol hydrochloride? Beef cattle are ruminants, meant to graze grass. When they are fed high-starch grains, antibiotics, steroids and chemicals, they promote and pass along to human consumers unnatural propensities for obesity, cancer, heart disease, abnormal maturity rates in our children, and yes, sometimes e.coli, and salmonella. More and more people who are dealing with such health issues are either abstaining from eating beef or actively seeking out all natural, all grassfed beef.

Mark Mulhall (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

Amen, to your comments. Mr./Ms. W. E.

P. S. Tyson also features "natural" beef.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 16, 2013

W.E.,Our industry does not benefit from myopic thinking like yours.

on Aug 19, 2013

Our industry does not benefit from listening to corporate shills like Troy Marshall.

old rancher (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

Tyson's decision was one thing. Merck's another. Merck abandoned its committment to the industry leaving many suffering. There are those who contracted their cattle in the beef, depending on Zilmax to deliver the extra pounds to make this wor. There are those who have started the 20 day feeding regime who will not be able to get product to finish. There would have been more feedback but Merck is one of the biggest supporters of industry associations and industry publications.
Merck either didn't do sufficient work on their product when they introduced it or they were wrong in withdrawing it. This is not about science.
JBS, Cargill and National should be applauded. Their stand was based on what Merck had presented as science. Merck left them hanging out to dry, as well

gg (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

W.E., please provide your sources for all the terrible things grain-fed beef causes...prefer it to be scientific please. This country's beef industry cannot survive on grass-fed beef. Like it or not, that is just a reality. Where is the grass to feed all the cattle in the feedlots and still maintain our cow herds? Even if you could find any, who could afford it as land cost are now? I think grass-fed has its niche and works for some and that is great. Just like I think responsible corn-fed works as well.

With all that said, I am not a proponent of feeding beta agonists. But you don't have to look much further that the "beef" breed to understand why beta agonists are at the forefront. If a certain breed does not use beta agonists, they will have a tough time competing in the razor edge margins of the business. Maybe its again time to really consider cross-breeding to naturally get the end results we need and the market drives. Different segments and different breeds need to work together for the greater good of the beef industry. Enough of the us vs. them. If those of us in this industry don't work to pull in the same direction, then we may get a front row seat for the demise of this great way of life.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 20, 2013

One of our direct-market grassfed beef customers passed along this article this morning.
What's Ailing America's Cattle?
(The Wall Street Journal) -- A growing number of cattle arriving for slaughter at U.S. meatpacking plants have recently shown unusual signs of distress. Some walked stiffly, while others had trouble moving or simply lay down, their tongues hanging from their mouths. A few even sat down in strange positions, looking more like dogs than cows. With few other changes to animals' diets that could trigger such symptoms, Dr. Grandin and other scientists involved with the livestock industry began to suspect a tie to weight-gain supplements called beta-agonists that have only recently become widely used. On Friday, drug maker Merck & Co. said it would temporarily suspend sales of Zilmax, one such feed additive, responding to widening animal-welfare concerns within the U.S. beef industry over the use of pharmaceuticals in meat production. The Merck announcement came more than a week after Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. meat processor by sales, told cattle suppliers it would suspend purchases of animals fed with Zilmax on account of ambulatory problems that the company observed, and suggestions by health experts that the drug might be the cause. Originally designed to alleviate asthma in humans, beta-agonists are mixed into cattle feed during the final weeks before slaughter to promote weight gain by stimulating the growth of lean muscle instead of fat. Its rival, ractopamine-based Optaflexx, can add as much as 20 pounds. Beta-agonists such as Zilmax and Optaflexx, which is made by Eli Lilly & Co.'s Elanco animal-health unit, are products of an expanding business of supplements and antibiotics developed in recent years to help livestock gain weight quickly or prevent illness among the animals.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 20, 2013

CHICAGO (June 4, 1998) - New checkoff-funded research has discovered that a common type of fat in beef may prevent diabetes, providing even greater evidence that beef should be part of healthful diets, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). The research, conducted at Purdue University and The Pennsylvania State University, adds to the wealth of other data supporting beef’s positive dietary role, according to NCBA director of nutrition research and information Mary K. Young, MS, RD.
The research found that conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) can prevent the onset of diabetes in laboratory animals, at least in the short term. Researchers say CLA, which appears naturally in beef and other red meats, may have some advantages over diabetes-fighting drugs.
Previous studies have shown that CLA also can prevent the onset of certain types of cancer and can reduce the number of mammary, skin and stomach tumors in laboratory animals. When fed to animals it also has been shown to reduce their body fat and increase lean muscle tissue.
"CLA is one of the most exciting new discoveries in meat, and will allow the industry to give consumers even more reasons that beef should be included in their diets," said Young. "Most consumers have heard about beef’s protein, iron, zinc, b-vitamins and other nutrients. Sometimes it takes something new to remind them that beef is a great source of well-rounded nutrition."
According to Martha Belury, PhD, RD, Purdue assistant professor of foods and nutrition, the discovery of CLA shows that you should never judge a book by its cover. "It (CLA) is in foods that are normally associated with saturated fats, but those foods can contain things that are good for you, too," said Belury. "The lesson here is that we still know so little about what is in foods naturally. We know that they contain certain vitamins and minerals, but there could be thousands of nutrients that we haven’t even found yet."
Diabetes affects about 15 million Americans, half of whom do not know they have the disease because initial symptoms can be so mild. These symptoms may include hard-to-heal infections, blurred vision, tingling in the hands or feet, or dry, itchy skin. If left untreated, Type II diabetes can result in kidney problems, amputation of limbs, blindness, coronary heart disease or strokes.
The research on CLA’s ability to control Type II diabetes was published in the March 27 issue of Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications and will be presented at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting in Chicago June 14. Additional research funding came from the Purdue Office of Research Programs and Penn State University.
(Unfortunately, the NCBA abandoned its research on the benefits of CLA after it was discovered that only grassfed animals offer it in quantities that will benefit human health.)

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 20, 2013

DENVER, Colo. (Jan.19, 2001) - Two recently published studies found significant health benefits from diets containing a fatty acid called Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA). The fatty acid is found naturally in ruminant products, such as beef and milk. It is not found, to any great extent, in other animal products or in plant products.
The first study, “Induction of Apoptosis by Conjugated Linoleic Acid in Cultured Mammary Tumor Cells and Premalignant Lesions of the Rat Mammary Gland" by Clement Ip, Ph.D., was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention in July 2000. It shows that feeding CLA during the early stage of breast cancer development is able to reduce the number of precancerous lesions in mammary tissue.
The second study, "Influence of Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) on Establishment and Progression of Atherosclerosis in Rabbits" by David Kritchevsky, Ph.D., confirmed earlier observations that CLA can inhibit atherogenesis in rabbits. It was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in August 2000.
Both research efforts were supported by cattle producers through their $1-per-head beef checkoff.
The study reported in Ip’s paper shows that CLA feeding during the early stage of breast cancer development can reduce the number of precancerous lesions in mammary tissue. Human epidemiological studies by other researchers have shown that breast cancer incidence tends to be lower in subjects with higher levels of CLA in their tissues. Because of these findings, a real and beneficial link appears to exist between CLA and reduced incidence of breast cancer.
Kritchevsky’s study confirmed earlier observations that CLA can inhibit atherogenesis (the development of atherosclerosis, or fatty streaks and later plaques in arteries) in rabbits, a commonly used animal model to study the development of atherosclerosis. At CLA levels as low as 0.1 percent of the diet -- the amount of CLA that one might obtain from diet alone -- atherosclerosis was inhibited by 34 percent.
In an even more striking effect of CLA, at dietary levels of 1 percent CLA caused substantial (30 percent) regression of established atherosclerosis. This is the first example of substantial regression of atherosclerosis being caused by diet alone.
In laboratory and experimental animal studies, CLA has been shown to be a powerful anti-carcinogen at relatively low levels. It has also been shown to exhibit other positive health effects, such as being anti-atherogenic, anti-diabetic, providing enhanced immune function and improved body composition (under some conditions). Work continues on CLA to further document and explain these exciting findings from animal studies and then expand the research to more human studies.
Ideally, beneficial dietary components (such as CLA) would be obtained from food sources like beef rather than from supplements. Because of the functional properties of CLA and its presence in beef, The American Dietetic Association (ADA) named beef as a “Functional Food” in its 1999 Position Paper. A functional food is defined as any potentially healthful food or food ingredient that may provide a health benefit beyond the traditional nutrients it contains.
“Consumers should be aware of where potentially beneficial dietary components are found in the food supply,” said Kritchevsky. “They should also be made aware that all fats are not bad, with CLA being an excellent example of a ‘good’ fatty acid, and that dietary pattern is more important than any single ingredient.”
To read the abstract from the study printed in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition," follow this link (When I googled this recently, I discovered that the older entry has now been replaced and is no long available for some reason.):
Is that enough?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 21, 2013

W.E.- 30 years in and its just showing up highly unlikely.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2013

Where have you been for the past thirty years? I've never seen you or heard your name. It's highly unlikely that you even exist.

gg (not verified)
on Aug 21, 2013

W.E. - I am not sure I can draw the same conclusions from your citations as to how terrible all corn-fed beef is, but regardless, let's not attack others in the industry. We need to try to find solutions and not just tear the industry apart from within. As I said, I am not a fan of feeding beta I suggested utilizing crossbreeding. The other proteins have embraced crossbreeding for years. Now, more than ever, this industry needs to work together. If everyone gets on the same page, we have a much better chance at rooting out any bad players.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 23, 2013

GG, The energy in corn comes largely from starch, not from the ruminant's natural food, which is high-cellulose green matter from various grasses, forbs and legumes. Our bodies have evolved over the course of thousands of years to crave the complex proteins, nutrients and micro-nutrients in red meat from animals that have grazed a variety of green plants. When our food grows in naturally healthy soil, it is more satisfying. The nitrogen from ammonium nitrates and anhydrous ammonia that we Americans have used to fertilize our grain fields since World War II does not produce food with that complex of satisfying proteins, fatty acids and other nutrients found in naturally fertilized soils grazed by ruminant animals. Quantity doesn't trump quality.
As our domesticated cattle graze, all of that diverse green matter puts on fat slowly, and contributes beneficial amounts of beta carotene, vitamin E, conjugated linoleic acid and Omega 3 fatty acid to their beef in the process. The minerals that the roots of well-established perennial plants bring up from the soil beneath them ends up in the beef, and then in our bodies. We are satisfied. We eat less.
Corn, on the other hand, produces fat on the beef animal much faster and more easily, but grain contributes an imbalance of far too much Omega 6 fatty acid. Starchy grain contains fewer and less complex nutrients than the green plants that have nourished domesticated cattle for ten thousand years or more. The fat from grain-fed beef is much less digestible, contains more saturated fats, and the calorie content is higher, so more of it is stored in our own bodies when we eat that very well-marbled grain fed beef. We crave those missing nutrients, so we eat more. Look at many folks who eat grain-fed beef, and you will see that they also look grain-fed, unless they are young enough and active enough to work off the calories from that extra fat, (like beef blogger Amanda Radke, for example.)
Grain-feeding cattle was never progress. Industry yes, but not progress. I agree that cross-breeding is the safest and best means of adding pounds of beef through hybrid vigor. The real issue is the quality and digestibility of nutrients in the fat in grassfed animals vs. the quantity of fat and calories that grainfed beef provides. Look up many research articles documented on Crossbreeding and grass-finishing have natural advantages.
We think that most cattlemen will someday come to understand, as we did after thirty-five years, that sending our calves away to be fed grain at an unseen feedlot a thousand miles from home was a huge mistake that we allowed to happen when we gave up the extra work of raising our beef on the pastures where they were born. A hard lesson, but a lesson learned.

on Dec 25, 2013

I think consuming fed-cattle is inevitable unless we have our own farms. Farmers nowadays need to preserve their beef as their storage period is quite long while waiting for buyers. That is the main reason why cattles are fed with antibiotics so as to enable their meat to stay preserved and last much longer. As for the steroids and all, they just want their cattle to produce more meat to reap as much profits as possible. So we as consumers can still consume beef and other red meats, but just remember to always eat in moderation.

on Jan 14, 2014

Cattles work in a similar manner as many other food products we see on a daily basis in the markets. They have a specific shelf or storage life that does not extend forever. That is why preservatives is a very important component to enable those food products to last as prescribed or even longer. Antibiotics is a form of preservatives but excessive injections of them would definitely have some form of side effects to the end customers. That is why we as consumers should watch our diet. 

nairy (not verified)
on Nov 30, 2014

yess great i love this

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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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