Tuesday, August 13 08:26:08
At a beef industry conference in Denver last week, the animal health auditor for meat producer JBS USA presented a video showing short clips of cows struggling to walk and displaying other signs of distress. The animals appeared to step gingerly, as if on hot metal, and showed signs of lameness, according to four people who saw the video.
The people in attendance said the video was presented by Dr Lily Edwards- Callaway, the head of animal welfare at JBS USA, as part of a panel discussion on the pros and cons of using a class of drugs known as beta-agonists - the additives fed to cattle in the weeks before slaughter to add up to 30 pounds to bodyweight and reduce fat content in the meat.
Edwards-Callaway told the audience the cattle had been fed a beta-agonist, but did not identify which brand. She also said various factors - including heat, transportation, and animal health - may have contributed to the behavior seen on the video, according to JBS spokesman Cameron Bruett. He said the video showed cattle were "reluctant to move," and told Reuters JBS wanted feedback from animal welfare experts, who were among those attending, on what JBS's own staff had been seeing.
Reuters was unable to determine what feedback was received. Edwards-Callaway did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The video was shown on the same day the nation's largest meat producer, Tyson Foods Inc, declared it would no longer accept cattle that had been fed the most popular brand of the feed additive, called Zilmax, a powerful and fast- selling product from pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. Tyson, in a letter to its cattle suppliers, said the decision resulted not from food-safety questions but its concerns over the behavior of animals that animal health experts said could be connected to the use of Zilmax.
The JBS presentation and Tyson's decision to ban Zilmax-fed cattle underscores the increasingly complex tradeoffs facing the agricultural sector as it seeks to engineer greater volumes of food at low cost. Tensions have grown in the drive to meet that goal, including fears about animal welfare, mounting criticism by consumer advocates, and industry concern about the effect of biotechnology on product quality, such as whether beef still has the fatty marbling that some consumers like.
No one from Tyson Foods viewed the video or knew of its existence prior to the company's decision to stop buying Zilmax-fed cattle, according to Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson.
Zilmax and the Optaflexx brand of Eli Lilly Co's Elanco Animal Health unit dominate the beta-agonist market.
Merck told Reuters in a statement that its own probe into the Tyson matter has shown Zilmax is not the cause of the animal behaviors seen at Tyson's facilities but declined to elaborate further. Merck spokeswoman Pamela Eisele said decades of product research have shown Zilmax is safe for animals, adding that Merck is working with Tyson to determine why Tyson has observed non- ambulatory or lame cattle at some of its beef plants. ( C ) Reuters