Tyson to suspend buying cattle fed Zilmax additive

Tyson Foods has sent a letter to cattle feeders saying that, as of September 6th, it will not accept cattle fed the beta-agonist growth promotant Zilmax.

Zilmax (zilpaterol hydrochloride) is an FDA-approved supplement for beef cattle that increases gain and feed efficiency in the production of beef.  It is marketed by Merck.

Brownfield obtained a copy of the Tyson letter late Wednesday afternoon and a Tyson official confirmed the suspension to Brownfield late Wednesday evening. 

In its letter, Tyson said that there have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move.  The letter goes on to say, “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.  Our evaluation of these problems is ongoing, but as an interim measure we plan to suspend our purchases of cattle that have been fed Zilmax.

“This is not a food safety issue,” the letter continued. “It is about animal well-being and ensuring proper treatment of the livestock we depend on to operate.”

The letter went on to say that the suspension would remain in effect “until further notice”.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Forrest Roberts provided the following statement to Brownfield on Wednesday evening:

“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.

“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.”

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