One of the two beta-agonist brands has been temporarily pulled off the market, and the other one still remains.

That contrast leaves a certain balance in play as the industry re-examines how it uses beta-agonist products in beef production. The feeding supplement, originally developed for human treatment of asthma, has been a proven and safe tool to help cattlemen boost cattle weights in the last stages of feeding.

It is apparent that the product must be reviewed, especially if it relates to animal welfare. But what’s even more important is that the industry didn’t abandon ship or knuckle under when concerns and criticism arose about its impact on production.

When cattle are arriving at feedlots with a slow gait and unable to move themselves into a facility, the industry has an obligation to figure out why.

Researchers must return to the science and data that allowed the use of these products and determine if the impact has changed over time.


When Tyson or Cargill announced their decision to drop the beta-agonist Zilmax, neither one said the supplement was the definitive reason for non-ambulatory cattle.

Rather, they said that until the factors for those lame-footed cattle can be identified, it’s a wiser course to drop Zilmax. The makers of the product did the same, temporarily pulling it from shelves and began user audits.

Unlike the case of hastily pulled lean finely trimmed beef (LFTB) in 2012, wiser heads prevailed in the use of beta-agonists.

The use of this tool, which can increase muscle growth in livestock with fewer days on feed, saves the industry resources and consumers money, and has no impact on food safety.

Had the industry quickly capitulated and dropped its widespread use – much as the dairy industry did with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) in fluid milk production – the criticism may have been greater and louder than before.

Critics of livestock agriculture will use whatever rhetorical weapon they can to shoot down beef production practices. If the industry gives in to harsh analysis quickly, it appears shallow and desperate. Even worse, it becomes an easy target for the next controversy.

But when the industry takes the careful course to re-examine, review and re-implement its methods, the case can be strongly made that we work hard to do things the right way.

How beta-agonists are used may change after sufficient review. The frequency, dosage and application are all worth assessing. Or maybe the product may be used less over time.

Whatever the industry decides, the issue requires the right amount of due diligence and study. Losing certain practices is one thing; losing your credibility is another.  end mark


David Cooper
Progressive Cattleman magazine