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What’s the Beef with Sore Cattle?

PHOTO: Cattle producers in Montana and around the country are rethinking feedlot practices after Merck Animal Health recently pulled a popular growth-accelerating drug from the market. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: Cattle producers in Montana and around the country are rethinking feedlot practices after Merck Animal Health recently pulled a popular growth-accelerating drug from the market. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
September 3, 2013

HELENA, Mont. - Cattle growers in Montana and around the country are rethinking feedlot practices after the drug firm Merck Animal Health recently pulled a popular growth-accelerating drug from the market. Zilmax was credited with helping cattle pack on up to 30 pounds of lean muscle in the weeks before slaughter, but it may also be associated with lame animals.

Dr. Temple Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University, is an animal scientist who worked for decades to make life better for animals raised for food. While the suspension of Zilmax is new, the problems she has noticed aren't. She said it's kept her up at night.

"It's a problem that really bothers me because I've worked hard to improve the slaughterhouses," she said. "We got the slaughterhouses fixed, and now we're getting some cattle that are stiff and sore."

There's no indication how long Zilmax will be off the market, and another, similar product is still available. Dr. Grandin said she doesn't think Zilmax should be banned, but that more research needs to be done on dosage and other conditions, such as heat.

Heat "makes them very difficult to handle, and those animals are suffering," Grandin said. "And I've made it very clear that it's a problem that needs to go away."

Zilmax is classified as a beta-agonist, and is also used to treat asthma in people. Right before the Merck decision, Tyson Foods announced it would no longer accept cattle that had been fed Zilmax.


Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT