Merck's five steps to responsible beef

Aug 16, 2013

Tyson Foods’ announcement two weeks ago that it would no longer buy animals fed with Zilmax created the latest media frenzy surrounding agriculture, with “experts” coming out of the woodworks on both sides. Tyson cited experts, suggesting that the drug may be causing cattle to become lame.

Merck Animal Health, the producer of Zilmax, quickly developed a plan to counter some of the negatives, and do what agriculture is known for—putting consumers and animals first by finding the best available science.

“We at Merck Animal Health pride ourselves on being a responsible company that puts animals and consumers first. The benefits and safety of Zilmax® (zilpaterol hydrochloride) are well documented and the product has a 30 year history of research and development and rigorous testing. Worldwide regulatory agencies have reviewed extensive data on Zilmax and have concluded that use of Zilmax, according to the label, is safe in cattle. It is important to understand these data included rigorous animal health safety and well-being studies—conducted by university experts—that found the behavior and movement of cattle fed Zilmax is normal,” the company wrote.

The release went on to share the company’s policy on pursuing any negative events. “It is a responsibility we take very seriously. We are confident in the totality of our data and the safety of the product and the well-being of the animals that receive it.”

In response to recent questions about Zilmax, and Tyson’s announcement, Merck Animal Health announced a Five-Step Approach to Ensuring Responsible Beef and educating customers and interested groups who are involved in animal husbandry and well-being.

1. Merck Animal Health is committed to re-certifying every feeder/nutritionist/veterinarian that feeds Zilmax to cattle. The re-certification process will begin immediately. Special attention will be given to feed mixing and determining which cattle are good candidates for the use of beta-agonists. We will engage third party experts to provide periodic review of certifications.

2. Within the next 30 days, Merck Animal Health is committed to reaching out to packers and suppliers to initiate a scientific audit, which will focus on the feeding of Zilmax, and will follow those cattle from the feedyard to the packing plant to determine potential causes of lameness and other mobility issues during feeding, transportation, offloading and staging at the processing facility. Merck Animal Health will do a thorough review of potential compounding factors—such as nutrition, transportation, receiving facilities, etc. We will perform this audit in conjunction with third-party experts.

3. Based on our findings, Merck Animal Health is committed to reinforcing appropriate management practices for feeder customers to include overall nutrition and feeding objectives, animal handling, low-stress environments and transportation.

4. Continuing in our work to advance animal well-being, we will form the Merck Animal Health Advisory Board within the next 30 days, made up of representatives from small, medium and large feeders, packers, cow-calf operators, as well as animal health and nutrition experts, to review available data. If additional recommended management practices are needed, these will be identified, shared and promptly implemented.

5. Merck Animal Health takes our responsibility very seriously and is committed to sharing all of these findings and to be transparent.

Others in the industry have also come forward to defend not only the use of beta-agonists, but also Merck Animal Health.

“Cattlemen and women believe in the right of farmers and ranchers to responsibly use FDA-approved technologies. We also believe in Tyson’s right to make individual company decisions that they feel are in the best interest of their business. We do not have all the details regarding the animal welfare concerns cited by Tyson in the letter to their cattle suppliers. However, we take every report of animal welfare issues very seriously,” said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Chief Executive Officer Forrest Roberts.

“We have expended significant resources to address questions about the use of beta-agonists relative to animal welfare concerns. We convened experts across the beef supply chain who have conducted extensive research on beta-agonists and engaged cattle feeding and animal health experts who have many years of experience using these products. We will continue these efforts until we have solid answers to these questions. In the meantime, we believe these products can be used responsibly when managed properly,” he added. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor