Do livestock feed additives, like beta-agonists, cause animal welfare problems?

Myth: The beef community uses animal feed additives for cattle, such as beta-agonists, without regard to animal welfare.

The Facts:  We understand how people may have questions about animal welfare, particularly with recent media coverage about the use of Zilmax, an animal feed ingredient. Like consumers, the beef community wants to do everything possible to assure animal welfare and determine the causes of recent reports of cattle lameness and other animal welfare questions. Lameness in cattle may occur for a variety of reasons, so it is important to conduct research to determine if there is any connection to use of beta-agonists.

The entire beef community—from the manufacturers of beta-agonists to the farmers and ranchers to the feedlots to the meatpacking plants—has a shared responsibility and commitment to animal welfare. Throughout the entire beef lifecycle, we are working together to address this issue by taking additional actions such as convening animal health experts in order to continue to ensure the highest level of care and humane handling for cattle raised in the United States.

  • What are beta-agonists? Beta-agonists, such as Zilmax and Optaflexx, are feed additives that, when added to feed in small amounts at a specific time in their lives, help cattle make the most of the food they eat resulting in more lean muscle instead of fat. All animal health products, including beta-agonists, are reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to use in animals to ensure there are no adverse impacts on animal health. Products in this class generate different responses due to differences in their chemical structure, receptor site activity and the tissues they act on.

What happens across the beef lifecycle to ensure optimum care?

  • Animal health companies: The animal health companies that make products, such as beta-agonists, have a strong commitment to animal welfare. These companies conduct numerous animal welfare studies and educational initiatives prior to any product being approved by the FDA. Products are continually monitored after they are introduced into the marketplace through additional studies, monitoring use in real world situations and more to help ensure the products are working safely and effectively. In response to recent questions, the manufacturer of Zilmax recently announced that they will be conducting additional animal welfare studies as well as convening an animal health advisory board to address some of the questions being raised. They have also recently made the decision to temporarily suspend sales of Zilmax in the United States and Canada, in order to do additional research and audits.
  • Cow-calf farmers and ranchers: Created by farmers and ranchers in 1987 and veterinarian endorsed, the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program includes research, training and certification that help farmers and ranchers provide the best care to their cattle. From feeding and nutrition, to transportation and cattle handling, BQA incorporates a variety of best practices to ensure proper cattle care.
  • Feedlots: The handling and care of more than 90 percent of cattle in feedlots today are influenced by the BQA program.
    • In feedlots across the country, professional cowboys called “pen riders” ride horseback among their cattle daily to observe the health of every animal and to make sure they are getting the care they need. If there is a concern, a veterinarian or nutritionist is consulted.
    • Feedlot managers also work closely with their veterinarians to ensure responsible use of products, such as antibiotics or beta-agonists. The decision to use any product, including feed additives like beta-agonists, is an individual one that every farmer/rancher/feedlot manager makes in consultation with their veterinarian and animal nutritionist.
  • Meatpacking plants: The federal Humane Slaughter Act of 1958 dictates strict animal handling and slaughter standards for packing plants at all times. When cattle arrive at the packing plant, they are evaluated for physical conditions that might be a concern and make them unfit for human consumption (animals that might have extreme lethargy, might not be able to walk normally, etc.).  If the inspector observes anything of concern, the animal is held separately until it can be examined to determine if it can be processed for food, or if it should be humanely euthanized and not allowed to not enter the food supply.
    • Most packing plants do their own animal welfare audits, an audit program developed by Dr. Temple Grandin.  Many have remote cameras installed on-site.  Many also are audited at least annual, and commonly more often, by third-party audit firms. Regular auditing helps plants identify issues early and maintain a high standard of welfare.

Ultimately, animal welfare is a top priority for everyone within the beef community, and the entire supply chain is committed to meeting consumer expectations for high-quality beef with animal care at its core.

Hear from feedlot owner, Anne Burkholder of Cozad, Nebraska, about the importance of animal welfare and using beta-agonists on her operation.

Also, hear from Richard Raymond, M.D., former Undersecretary for Food Safety, U.S. Department of Agriculture about beta-agonists, food safety and beef.

Beta-agonists, Zilmax and Optaflexx, and Cattle: How Targeted Use Results in Leaner Beef

Myth: Beta-agonists cause cattle to grow unnaturally large and are bad for my health.

The Facts: Zilmax and Optaflexx, which are beta-agonists, are animal feed ingredients that help cattle make the most of the food they eat resulting in more lean muscle instead of fat. They have been proven safe for cattle and humans.

Cattle farmers use these feed additives in targeted ways, only adding small amounts to the animals’ feed at a specific time in their lives. They are metabolized quickly by cattle so they are not stored in the body over time. Beta-agonists are approved for use in the United States, Canada and two dozen other countries across the developed world.

Get the top five facts behind beta-agonists in cattle:

1. What are beta-agonists and what do they do? A beta-agonist is simply a feed ingredient given to some cattle to help the animals make the most of the food they eat (ractopamine and zilpaterol are examples of beta agonists approved for use in cattle). When cattle are young, they use their food to build muscle, but as they age they begin to instead put on more fat. Beta-agonists help cattle maintain their natural muscle-building ability, resulting in the leaner beef that consumers demand.

2. How and why are they used? Beta-agonists, a feed additive, can be used as part of a healthy, balanced diet for cattle according to label guidelines. The decision to use this feed ingredient is an individual one that every farmer/rancher/feedyard manager makes in consultation with their veterinarian and animal nutritionist.

  • Many factors guide the decision to use beta-agonists, including type and condition of cattle, customer expectations (yield and quality grades), as well as leanness, weather or seasonal conditions, which may affect cattle health and growth.
  • A farm’s environmental goals are also considered because these feed ingredients reduce the farm’s demand on natural resources like land, water, feed and fuel.

Feedyard owner and operator Anne Burkholder of Cozad, Nebraska explains beta-agonists and why she chooses to use them.

3. Do they harm the animal? Animal welfare is a top priority. All animal health products are reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) prior to use in animals to ensure there are no adverse impacts on animal health. Caring for their animals and making sure they grow healthfully is important to the people who raise cattle. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in the farmers’ and ranchers’ best interest, too. It’s as simple as this – healthy animals produce high-quality meat.

  • In a feedyard, professional cowboys called “pen riders” ride horseback among their cattle to observe the health of every animal daily to make sure they are getting the care they need.

4. How do I know they are safe? All products used in food animals must go through dozens of studies and be shown to be safe for both animals and humans before approval by the FDA.

In the case of beta-agonists, hundreds of studies have been done. But the evaluation does not stop there.  After animal health products are approved, they are continuously monitored to improve their performance and how they are used. And, since beta-agonists are metabolized quickly by cattle, they aren’t stored in the body over time.

  • The safety of meat from animals fed ractopamine (a beta-agonist) has been affirmed by 28 regulatory bodies, including the international food standards body Codex Alimentarius Commission, which was created by the World Health Organization.
  • The U.S. Food Safety and Inspective Service (FSIS) routinely tests meat to ensure its safety.

5. Do beta-agonist fed cattle still produce quality beef? Yes. Today’s beef increasingly meets consumer expectations for a great-tasting meal. The entire beef community is committed to raising the highest-quality beef possible and consistently providing people with great-tasting beef. Learn more about how beef quality is measured.

  • Over the past 20 years, overall beef quality grades (such as Prime or Choice) have steadily improved, thanks to cattle genetics, the way cattle are fed and proper cattle handling to prevent stress.

If you prefer beef from cattle that was not fed a beta-agonist, there are great beef choices available for you in the grocery store. Products labeled USDA organic or “naturally-raised” would not have received any growth promoting product like a beta-agonist. Regardless of the type of beef you choose, you can feel confident that it’s safe, delicious and nutritious.

Investment in Safety Means Beef is Safer From E.Coli

Myth:  Recent E. coli recalls of beef means beef is less safe today than it used to be.

News about recalls of beef because of E. coli may cause concern that beef is not as safe today as it once was. In reality, improvements by the beef community mean that beef is safer today and chance of foodborne illness related to beef has decreased.

The Facts: The safety of the U.S. beef supply continues to improve due to the commitment of the beef community and oversight from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The beef community has a long-standing commitment to providing the public with the safest beef possible – a pledge that is backed by research, best practices and public education.

Here are some answers to common questions about recalls of beef due to E. coli: [Read more…]

Drugs in meat? Not so. Farmers and ranchers work with veterinarians and animal nutritionists in order to protect the health of their animals and the health of consumers.

Myth: Drugs in meat including, growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics are overused in order to make them grow bigger and faster. It’s not good for the animals or for consumer food safety.

You may be concerned about how drugs you have heard of, such as growth hormones in cattle and antibiotics, are used on today’s farms and ranches and whether this means there are drugs in meat.

The Facts: Farmers and ranchers are committed to working with veterinarians and nutritionists to make the right decisions about the care and development of their animals. That includes the targeted use of antibiotics to treat sick animals or keep animals healthy. Also growth promotants such as growth hormones in cattle or feed additives like beta-agonists can help cattle convert the nutrients in their feed to lean muscle. Farmers and ranchers use these tested and proven tools carefully and in compliance with stringent safe use policies set and enforced by the government.

Final Checks and Balances 8 21 13

Is the use of growth hormones in cattle safe?

[Read more…]

Why Am I Hearing About “Mechanically Tenderized” Beef?

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

This is a typical blade (or needle) tenderizer, which breaks down muscle fibers to make even more tender beef.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced new labeling requirements for raw or partially cooked beef products that have been “mechanically tenderized.” Restaurants, retailers, food service facilities, beef purveyors and their patrons will now have even more information about the beef products they are buying, as well as useful cooking instructions so they know how to safely prepare them. This rule, beginning May 17, now requires that raw beef product that has been mechanically tenderized include the descriptive designation “mechanically tenderized,” “blade tenderized” or “needle tenderized” on the package and include cooking instructions.

What is Mechanically Tenderized Meat?

Mechanically tenderized meat simply means that the meat has been pierced with needles, or small blades, in order to break up the muscle tissue for a more tender beef-eating experience. You may remember your grandmother doing something similar with a small meat mallet in her kitchen. Check out the video that explains more about mechanically tenderized meat.

Why is Meat Mechanically Tenderized?

Tenderness is one of the reasons people love beef. Some cuts, such as the lean sirloin cut, are a little less tender than other cuts, such as the very tender ribeye. This tenderness is dependent on a variety of factors – where the cut comes from on the carcass, the age or genetics of the animal and degree of marbling. Meat has been tenderized by hand in kitchens for generations. Today’s beef community uses a similar technique on a broader scale – mechanical tenderization – to offer more consistently tender beef options to more consumers. According to USDA data, about 11 percent or 2.6 billion pounds of beef products sold in the United States are mechanically tenderized. See the video below that discusses the different tenderness profiles of common beef cuts or check out the Interactive Butcher Counter to see which cuts are the most or least naturally tender.

What does this new rule mean for me?

This new rule shouldn’t change the way that you buy beef – you may just see more information on the label than you have in the past. Tenderized beef products are often sold at restaurants or foodservice establishments, but they can also be sold at supermarkets and grocery stores. Mechanically tenderized beef should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees followed by a three-minute rest time, so if you’re cooking it at home, be sure to follow those directions. If you’re ordering beef in a restaurant, the restaurant should always cook beef to the optimal food safety temperature.

For more information on this new rule, you can read USDA’s blog post on the topic. Also, check out the USDA infographic below.



Pink slime in ground beef? Not so. It’s 100% USDA inspected beef.

Inaccurately-termed pink slime in ground beef is lean finely textured beef. It looks no different than 90% lean/10% fat ground beef.

Myth: Pink slime in ground beef isn’t real meat

Reports have inaccurately used the term pink slime in ground beef, for what is accurately known as lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or finely textured beef (FTB). These reports also claim it is not real beef, but rather filler made from scraps from the slaughterhouse floor that contain ammonia. Get the real story behind lean finely textured beef.

The Facts: Pink slime in ground beef is a misnomer…get the facts on LFTB [Read more…]

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