Though clearly a move to protect its own profits rather than safeguard public health, industrial meat processor Tyson Foods Inc. nonetheless announced recently that it will no longer accept for processing cattle that have been treated with the growth-accelerating drug, Zilmax. According to reports, the company has recognized not only that cattle fed the Merck & Co. drug often suffer immense pain due to excessive weight gain, but also that many export countries like Russia and China do not want meat that contains any trace of the controversial substance.
The decision comes just months after rival Smithfield Foods, which is currently in the process of being acquired by a Chinese holding firm, decided to phase out the use of ractopamine, a similar growth-accelerating drug, in pigs following bans on the drug in both China and Russia. According to Reuters, Tyson’s announcement follows a similar lead, as Zilmax-treated cattle are increasingly being rejected both domestically and internationally due to their questionable safety record for human consumption.
Tyson officials claim the ban is being implemented to promote animal welfare, as many Zilmax-treated cattle are too overweight and deformed to even walk down the slaughter chute. But many media sources now believe Tyson’s true motive is to protect its export market by voluntarily withdrawing animals treated with the drug. In order to avoid losing considerable foreign market share in the coming months and years, in other words, Tyson has chosen to act first by rejecting a product that will cut into its export sales.
“There have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move,” states a letter recently sent by Tyson to cattle farmers. “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.”
Synthetic growth drugs: One more reason to purchase only humanely-raised, grass-fed meats
Like many other growth-accelerating drugs currently given to factory farm animals, Zilmax is a beta agonist, which means it mimics the action of naturally occurring hormones when ingested. Originally designed to treat respiratory ailments in humans, beta agonists work in cattle by altering their metabolisms and accelerating the rate at which they convert feed to usable muscle tissue. They also promote a higher conversion of feed into protein rather than fat, which leads to higher lean meat production.
Zilmax is just one of many beta agonists currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for administration in factory cattle. So even with Tyson’s new moratorium on this controversial additive, the company will continue to process cattle that contains other beta agonists, such as Optaflexx, which also unnaturally bulks up animals by speeding up the breakdown and synthesis of feed.
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