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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Local cattleman responds to withdrawal of drug

  • Merck Animal Health released a statement Aug. 16 announcing their withdrawal of Zilmax feed additive from the market in order to conduct new tests as to its side effects in livestock.
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  • Merck Animal Health released a statement Aug. 16 announcing their withdrawal of Zilmax feed additive from the market in order to conduct new tests as to its side effects in livestock.
    The move came after several years of industry concerns and complaints that some animals ingesting Zilmax were showing symptoms such as a lameness, reluctance to move, an inability to walk properly and a higher death rate.
    Merck’s announcement came just 10 days after Tyson Foods announced it would no longer buy animals that had been fed Zilmax. Tyson controls 26 percent of beef supply in the United States.
    Zilmax is a beta-agonist, which acts as a steroid, and is used to convert fat to muscle on a short-term basis. Reports have shown an average weight gain of 15 to 30 pounds in beef in its short term use.
    In humans, beta-agonist type drugs are often used to treat asthma.
    Zilmax’s capability for quick muscle mass gain has made it a popular additive in the industry.
    Allan Sents of McPherson County Feeders said while McPherson County Feeders never used Zilmax, it has evaluated the additive’s reported benefits and negatives.
    “The reports of the complaints against Zilmax really started drawing attention when the futures market shot up due to Tyson’s announcement,” Sents said, “and with Zilmax, we had concern from the beginning due to reports of decreased tenderness, so we’ve never been ready to take a chance on it.”
    Quality and flavor of beef fed Zilmax has been debated, with reports stating Cargill held off on buying Zilmax-fed beef due to an internal study stating the beef was less flavorful.
    Still, the effect of the introduction of beta-agonists on the market seems obvious as presented in the Aug. 19 issue of Daily Livestock Report, where authors Steve Meyer and Len Steiner report the average fed-cattle carcass weights for 2012 has increased by 19 pounds, while there was little to no increase from 2007 to 2011. This sudden average weight increase corresponds with the introduction of beta-agonists on the market.
    Sents said the withdrawal of Zilmax from the market could have industry-wide repercussions.
    “Close to 70 percent of cattle were being fed Zilmax,” Sents said, “and after it’s taken off the market. It’s likely to reduce overall beef tonnage. In fact, there have been some estimates saying it could cause up to a 1 percent decrease in the national beef amount.”
    Meyer and Steiner, though, believe it’s likely low corn prices and Zilmax’s beta-agonist competitor Optiflexx will fill the void for the time being, and estimate an average carcass weight drop of eight pounds.
    Despite the controversy, Merck’s announcement referred to the withdrawal as a temporary measure allowing time to establish valid study protocols, choose feeders and packers to participate in the study, and create a third-party team to oversee the process and validate the results.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We remain confident in the safety of the product, based on our own extensive research and that of regulators and academic institutions, and are committed to the well-being of the animals that receive it,” said Merck Animal Health’s K.J. Varma, senior vice president global research and development, in the company’s statement.
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