Tyson Foods Inc. announced recently it will no longer buy animals fed a supplement designed to bulk them up before slaughter -- a move that's raised concerns from industry experts because it could increase prices for consumers.
Tyson is one of four companies that control 82 percent of the U.S. beef supply and is the first company to make the move away from the controversial feed supplement, Zilmax.
JBS USA, a Greeley-headquartered subsidiary of JBS SA in Brazil, is also among the four major U.S. beef-packers.
A company representative said Monday afternoon that "JBS doesn't have a comment at this time" regarding its competitor's recent move, or whether or not JBS USA is considering any similar actions.
Surprising many in the industry, Tyson sent a letter to cattle feeders saying that as of Sept. 6, the company would no longer buy animals that have been treated with the beta-agonist, Zilmax. The growth-inducing drugs, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, help feedyards get roughly 25 more pounds of beef from each carcass.
According to the Associated Press, they've been increasingly used to offset dwindling cattle herd numbers, especially in the face of last year's drought.
"There have been recent instances of cattle delivered for processing that have difficulty walking or are unable to move," Tyson told feeders in a letter. "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."
Some in the industry wonder if the real reason Tyson officials moved away from Zilmax is not about cattle, but rather the battle for sales in other countries, where using drugs for meat production is banned.
While JBS officials didn't make comments Monday, an article in the Minnesota-based, agriculture publication Feedstuffs reported that Lilly Callaway, an animal scientist who works for JBS, told a meeting of cattle producers this month that her company is seeing increasing reports of animals fed beta-agonists as stressed.
Zilmax manufacturer Merck Animal Health said in an emailed statement its product is safe for use in cattle. It said studies have found that cattle fed Zilmax have normal behavior and movement.
Zilmax has been available in the U.S. for cattle since 2007, and until now, all four of the nation's big beef producers have bought cattle fattened on the feed additives.
Should all major meatpackers stop buy Zilmax-fed cattle, retail and wholesale prices of beef would rise because there would be less beef available, agriculture economist told the Associated Press.
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