Teaching kids early to drug up the beef supply

KidsWithSteer“I think it’s a fabulous product,” says 17 year-old Justana Tate, talking affectionately about the drug Zilmax.

And why not? Hefty doses of the drug—made by Merck—helped her steer become a state fair champion in Texas. And this is no small matter. With U.S. auction prices for champion cattle topping $300,000 a head and hefty scholarship checks for winners at stake, a win like that is a huge deal.

It is a known fact that full-strength Zilmax, when added to feed weeks before slaughter, can add about 30 pounds of muscle to the average 1,300-pound steer. So it’s no wonder the kids turn to drugs for their animals.

But perhaps an education on the trickle-down effects of these drugs to both the animal and people who eat the meat, might help the kids have a little perspective.

But don’t expect to see an “organic/drug free” section at the state fair any time soon.  The system in place currently is designed to gets the kids on drugs early.

It works like this: Merck does not make show feeds. Instead, feed mills blend the company’s Zilmax with protein, fat, fiber or other products, and then market the mix under trade names like Showmaxx, Power Champ and Zillarator.

Then, in many cases,  manufacturers distribute free samples of medicated feed to youth development groups, 4-H or Future Farmers of America. This is according to Richard Sellers, the American Feed Industry Association’s vice president for nutrition and feed regulation. He also points out that it is legal and pragmatic.

If it sounds a little like the methodology of pharmaceutical companies giving away free drug samples to doctors—to encourage prescribing and patient use—it’s because it is.

As Mr. Sellers says, “You want them to buy feed when they grow up.”

Or, put another way, what kid is going to want to compete for a $300,000 prize with an organic cow when drugs are available to fatten up his or her cow for free?

In an interesting side note, Merck temporarily suspended Zilmax sales in the United States and Canada in August, soon after the largest U.S. meat processor, Tyson Foods Inc, stopped accepting Zilmax-fed cattle for slaughter over animal welfare concerns. After Merck last week said it was preparing to return Zilmax to the market, food giant Cargill Inc declared it would bar Zilmax-fed animals from its supply chain until it was “100 percent confident” those issues are resolved.

But in cattle shows at state and county fairs across the farm belt, Zilmax remains popular. Despite the halt in sales of Merck’s zilpaterol – Zilmax is the trade name – existing stockpiles of Zilmax-based show feeds circulated at fairs this fall. So, too, did products made with Optaflexx, a rival drug by Eli Lilly & Co.’s Elanco Animal Health group that is based on ractopamine, also a beta-agonist.

Info from Reuters article U.S. farm kids lavish shampoos and drugs on their prize cattle.

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