In an exclusive report on Friday, Cattle Buyers Weekly (CBW) reported that Cargill, JBS USA and National Beef Packing will stop buying cattle fed the feed supplement Zilmax™ . Cargill says the last of the cattle being fed Zilmax that are in its supply chain will be harvested by the end of September. Cargill will suspend purchases of Zilmax-fed cattle in North America, pending research being conducted by manufacturer Merck Animal Health. This will give producers adequate time to transition cattle currently being treated with Zilmax, it says in a statement on its website . CBW understands that JBS and National have started to inform their feedlot suppliers they will stop buying Zilmax-fed cattle, in JBS’s case from Sept 23.
Steve Kay , CBW Editor, reports the non-use of Zilmax  causes some analysts to raise their forecasts for fourth quarter live cattle prices. They do so in the presumption that beef production in the quarter will be slightly lower. Zilmax adds an average 28 lbs. to the live weight of cattle it is fed to. More than 35% of cattle marketed each week are estimated to have been fed Zilmax. Any impact on weight won’t be seen until Sept. 6 at the earliest. That’s when Tyson Foods will stop buying Zilmax-fed cattle.
While Cargill has not linked Zilmax to any specific incidents involving animal well-being, it does believe more research is necessary to answer recently raised questions regarding the use of this product, it says. Consequently, Cargill supports Merck’s decision to suspend sales (from Aug. 16) of Zilmax in the U.S. and Canada. Cargill was the last major beef packer to allow cattle fed Zilmax  into its beef supply chain, in June 2012, it says. One reason Cargill was initially reluctant to accept cattle fed Zilmax was a series of extensive beef tenderness tests that created concern about potential impact to product quality. Of the major U.S. packers, Cargill harvests the lowest percentage of cattle fed Zilmax, it says.
Analysis of how much the non-use of Zilmax might reduce beef production and raise cattle prices varies considerably. Weekly average beef production forecast will be lowered by 6 to 7M lbs./week from September to December, says CattleFax. So it forecasts an average $130/cwt. live cattle price, vs. an earlier forecast of $128. Other analysts don’t see anywhere near the same decline in production for several reasons. Placements of heavyweight cattle from earlier this year means more beef will be produced than expected.
One analyst’s forecast is for production of 6.443 billion lbs., down only 2.0% on last year. Another’s is for 6.300 lbs., down 4.1%. Both numbers are higher than their previous forecast. They also expect cattle feeders to switch to the other beta-agonist, Optaflexx™ , or feed to heavier weights with cheaper corn. So they have raised their live cattle price forecasts by only 50¢ to slightly over $126/cwt.
Campaign Challenges Youth Competitions
Meanwhile, a Nebraska-based consumer awareness campaign calls for an end to using beta-agonists in cattle involved in national youth show ring competitions. Beef Additive Alert™ says its demands an immediate prohibition of the beta-agonists by both the USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture NIFA) and the U.S. Education Department’s Future Farmers of America organization. The campaign is aimed at banning both Zilmax and Optaflexx.
Beef Additive Alert is the brainchild of beef producers Gerald Timmerman, a producer and cattle feeder based in Nebraska, and Harvey Dietrich, a rancher and former president of Sunland Beef in Arizona. The two describe themselves as veteran large-scale ranchers, each with 50 years’ cattle industry experience. They are passionate about raising top quality cattle free of aggressive performance-enhancing drugs, they say. They launched their national consumer awareness/action campaign to let (educate) Americans know what’s really going on behind-the-scenes in the highly competitive 4-H & FFA show rings, they say.
In this day and age of athlete doping scandals, those behind the campaign are greatly alarmed at the lesson this teaches the nation’s youth, especially since the 4-H motto is to “Make the Best Better” and “Learn By Doing”, says spokeswoman Susan Stern. “Basically, we are telling kids that it is acceptable to cheat to win. We disagree”. Billed as “The Competitive Advantage You can’t Win Without,” and “Essential Show Feeds”, zilpaterol cattle feed additives are marketed to show ring youngsters nationwide, she says.
Beef Additive Alert has the support of renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin, who says she is concerned that children will feed too much beta-agonist additives to steers and cause animal welfare problems. She also thinks that marketing beta-agonists to kids and encouraging them to bulk up their animal with a drug teaches poor values, she says.
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