Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. today notifed its supplieres it would no longer accept cattle fed with Zilmax, a beta agonist sold by Merck Animal Health, beginning Sept. 6. Live cattle futures reacted to the news with strong gains today as traders sort through the possible implication of this tightening supuplies.
In a letter addressed to "cattle feeders" and signed by John Gerber, director of cattle procurement for Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., he said "animal well-being is extremely important to our business. This is why we want to express our continued concerns about the receipt of cattle that become non-ambulatory or lame at some of our beef plants."
The letter continues:
"There have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move. 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.
"The purpose of this letter is to provide notice that within 30 days – or as of September 6 – we will no longer purchase cattle that have been fed Zilmax. This suspension will remain in effect until further notice.
"This is not a food safety issue. It is about animal well-being and ensuring the proper treatment of the livestock we depend on to operate. If you have any questions, please contact your Tyson Fresh Meats cattle buyer."
Merck says safety, animal welfare is well-demonstrated
Responding to the announcement, Merck Animal Health issued the following statement:
"Animal well-being is a priority for Merck Animal Health.
"The facts are clear. The benefits and safety of Zilmax® (zilpaterol) are well documented. Zilmax 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.
"We are confident that, based on all of the available data on Zilmax, the experience reported by Tyson is not attributable to Zilmax. Indeed, Tyson itself points to the fact that there are other possible causes and that it does not know the specific cause of the issues it recently experienced. We will continue to work with Tyson to help it identify those other causes. Again, we are confident that the totality of our data does not support Zilmax as being the cause of these experiences, and we remain confident in the safety of the product."