CITING its commitment to helping producers use the product responsibly, Merck Animal Health announced Aug. 16 that it would temporarily suspend sales of its beta-agonist zilpaterol hydrochloride, marketed under the brand name Zilmax, in the U.S. and Canada. The company announced earlier in the week a “Five step plan to responsible beef,” committing to conducting scientific audit and recertifying every feeder, nutritionist and veterinarian authorized to feed the popular additive.
Its audit, undertaken in conjunction with third-party experts and a scientific advisory committee, will monitor the process of feeding of Zilmax, and will follow identified cattle from the feedyard to the packing plant to determine potential causes of lameness and other mobility issues during feeding, transportation, offloading and staging at the processing facility. In addition, the company said it would do a thorough review of potential compounding factors-such as nutrition, transportation and receiving facilities.
According to a statement, suspending sales will allow the company sufficient time for the establishment of valid study protocols, identification of feeders and packers to participate in the audit, and creation of a third-party team to oversee this process and validate its results.
“We remain confident in the safety of the product, based on our own extensive research and that of regulators and academic institutions, and are committed to the well-being of the animals that receive it,” said KJ Varma, Merck’s senior vice president for blobal R&D. “This important step demonstrates our commitment to providing our industry partners with data that will reaffirm confidence in Zilmax. We sincerely regret that this situation creates business challenges for our customers but it is critical to ensure that this process is conducted appropriately and with rigorous scientific measures. After the five-step plan is completed, the results will be shared publicly.”
Zilmax sales in the U.S. and Canada totaled $159 million in 2012. Industry estimates suggest that more than 70% of the fed cattle population in the U.S. is fed one of two approved beta-agonists, Merck’s Zilmax and Elanco’s OptaFlexx (ractopamine).
Tyson Fresh Meats announced last week that it would no longer purchase cattle finished using Merck’s product, though its policy did not preclude cattle fed ractopamine. Cargill, JBS and National Beef each reiterated that they had adopted no policy against feeding beta-agonists.