What a difference perspective makes. I say this because I believe that two events occurring over the last two weeks would have created – in an earlier time – widespread hysteria and, possibly, industry overreaction.
The first event occurred when Tyson announced it would no longer buy finished cattle fed the beta agonist Zilmax, effective Sept. 6. The letter to cattle feeders cited animal welfare concerns as a result of some animals arriving for slaughter that exhibited mobility issues.
There’s been discussion within the industry about this issue for a little while now, so there’s really no reason to suspect that Tyson’s new policy is motivated by other motives. There’s also been ample speculation that the animal welfare concern provided the nation’s largest fed-cattle processor with the opportunity to address something it feels could become a public relation problem in the future. If that’s the case, Tyson’s timing was terrible.
With today’s relatively tight numbers, the additional 30 lbs./animal that Zilmax provides is impossible to ignore. After all, the reason the industry has seen such a major move toward the use of beta-agonists is the tremendous economic incentive to do so. Most of that weight gain ends up as carcass weight, and disproportionately in the retail case. That makes the value difference significant.
Initially, many thought that other major packers would follow Tyson’s lead – a sort of domino effect. However, the economic incentive not to do so apparently is too significant, as Cargill, National Beef and JBS have announced they won’t adopt Tyson’s policy.
If Tyson remains the only packer banning the use of Zilmax among its suppliers, it puts itself at a significant competitive disadvantage. The question then becomes whether Tyson can continue its policy if the science isn’t forthcoming to back its position.
Fortunately, the overall industry remained true to the basic tenet that decisions be grounded in sound science. In addition, media coverage of the issue has thus far been minimal, though some activist groups are trying to stir up interest.
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The bottom line is that cooler heads prevailed, action was initiated, and it appears the litany of concerns that were legitimately expressed at the time of the announcement have been avoided thus far.
The second news event is the Angus announcement that a genetic defect (polymelia) was found in the breed, at a relatively high frequency, and with some popular bloodlines among the carriers. Several years ago, when another defect (Arthrogryposis Multiplex, commonly known as Curly Calf Syndrome)was announced, the industry overreacted. The result was that many breeders were financially devastated, and a lot of good genetics were summarily discarded.
Perspective is a wonderful thing because, since then, the industry has learned that the technology that allowed it to identify these defects also provides the capability to deal with them without any major hardship for breeders or commercial producers. We’ve also discovered that as DNA technology continues to advance, we’ll discover that virtually every animal out there is the carrier of one or more genetic defects.
Today’s technologies will allow us to alleviate problems, and we are likely to see some fairly dramatic increases in reproductive results in the future as a result. Thankfully, this time, the devastating over-reaction that occurred in the past was successfully avoided.
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