As part of a panel discussion on whether to use beta-agonists, Dr Lily Edwards-Callaway, the head of animal welfare at JBS USA, presented a video showing short clips of cows struggling to walk and displaying other signs of distress.
Without naming a specific brand, Edwards-Callaway told the audience the cattle had been fed a beta-agonist. The video was recently shot with remote cameras used for auditing animal welfare at a single facility operated by JBS USA, which is a unit of JBS SA of Brazil.
Reuters notes beta-agonists such as Zilmax, a powerful and fast-selling product from pharmaceutical company Merck, were initially developed as asthma drugs for humans but are used as additives fed to cattle before slaughter to fatten them up to 30 pounds and reduce fat content in the meat.
Because of the use of drugs like Zilmax, along with improved feed and animal genetics, the U.S. beef industry produced more than 26 billion pounds of beef from 91 million head of cattle last year. “In 1952, it took 111 million head of cattle to produce 21 billion pounds of beef.”
The video was shown on the same day the nation’s largest meat producer, Tyson Foods, declared it would no longer accept cattle that had been fed Zilmax.
Tyson’s Mickelson said they experienced problems in its own slaughterhouses similar to those described from the JBS video, and the problems were common enough to warrant concern.
Mickelson said the company does not know the cause of the problem. However, he said, independent veterinarians and animal welfare experts have told Tyson officials that Zilmax could be to blame.
Some of the cattle delivered to Tyson’s slaughter plants had trouble moving after being delivered, according to company.
At first, Tyson officials blamed the heat, but as weeks passed and the problems continued, Tyson sent a letter to its feedlot suppliers, alerting them it would stop buying cattle fed with Zilmax.
“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,” according to the letter.
Either way, the issue “is significant enough that we believe our decision is warranted.”
Despite Merck’s denial and insistence that Zilmax is not the cause of the animal behaviors seen at Tyson’s facilities, you can bet that if Tyson, the nation’s largest meat producer, no longer accepts cattle fed with Zilmax, something is terribly wrong.
Remember, all the drugs and chemicals fed to U.S. cattle before they’re slaughtered end up inside our bodies, the bodies of our children, and in the still forming fetuses of pregnant women.
Because while Tyson is doing the responsible thing by not accepting cattle fed with Zilmax, agribusiness giant Cargill told Reuters Cargill would continue to buy cattle fed with the drug.
And National Beef Packing Co, another leading beef producer, said in a statement they also will still accept Zilmax-fed cattle and will not change its procurement practices.
In case you’re interested, here’s a video featuring Mitch Johnson who is with Merck Animal Health explaining the many “benefits” of Zilmax, like an additional 33 lbs of “carcas” weight which is put on in 3-4 weeks time, the final days of its life.