As the drought continues to inflict damage on various states this summer, the affordability of feed and excess capacity in many feedyards is pushing several feeders to ramp up more use of beta agonists drugs. Beta agonists are offered in two different products, both approved by the Food and Drug Administration -- ractopamine, or Optaflexx by Elanco Animal Health; and zilpeterol, or Zilmax by Merck Animal Health.


Beta agonists add significant pounds in the final days of feeding for beef cattle, and their use has been cited in helping the beef industry to produce more overal pounds of beef, in spite of fewer cattle and more culling and slaughter rates.

But the products have not been accepted by the European Union, China and most recently Russia. And as the AP reports, even some processors such as Cargill have cautiously accepted cattle that finished on beta agonists. This summer, Cargill started accepting beta agonist cattle, after previously expressing concern about the usage. The company says it has "not completely embraced" the technology, but chose to process the beef due to the high volume of it coming from third-party producers.

The AP story also quotes John Stika, the president of Certified Angus Beef, who affirmed the safety of the product, but said the effect on tenderness and taste is one that may have an impact on consumers.

As the drought continues, and feed options tighten for many producers and feeders, expect this issue to get more attention going forward. end mark