Following Tyson Fresh Meat's announcement that it would no longer accept cattle fed zilpaterol hydrochloride (Zilmax) after Sept. 6, Merck Animal Health issued a statement Aug. 13 defending the benefits and safety of its zilpaterol product, saying it is "well documented and the product has a 30+ year history of research and development and rigorous testing. Worldwide regulatory agencies have reviewed extensive data on Zilmax and have concluded that use of Zilmax, according to the label, is safe in cattle."
Merck added that it is important to understand that "these data included rigorous animal health safety and well-being studies - conducted by university experts - that found the behavior and movement of cattle fed Zilmax is normal."
In response to recent questions about zilpaterol, Merck announced a "Five-Step Approach to Ensuring Responsible Beef" that would educate its customers and interested groups who are involved in animal husbandry and well-being.
The plan includes:
1. Merck Animal Health is committed to re-certifying every feeder/nutritionist/veterinarian that feeds Zilmax to cattle. The re-certification process will begin immediately. Special attention will be given to feed mixing and determining which cattle are good candidates for the use of beta-agonists. We will engage third party experts to provide periodic review of certifications.
2. Within the next 30 days, Merck Animal Health is committed to reaching out to packers and suppliers to initiate a scientific audit, which will focus on the feeding of Zilmax, and will follow those 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. Merck Animal Health will do a thorough review of potential compounding factors-such as nutrition, transportation, receiving facilities, etc. The audit will be performed in conjunction with third-party experts.
3. Based on the company's findings, Merck Animal Health is committed to reinforcing appropriate management practices for feeder customers to include overall nutrition and feeding objectives, animal handling, low-stress environments and transportation.
4. Continuing work to advance animal well-being, the Merck Animal Health Advisory Board will be formed within the next 30 days, made up of representatives from small, medium and large feeders, packers, cow/calf operators, as well as animal health and nutrition experts, to review available data. If additional recommended management practices are needed, these will be identified, shared and promptly implemented.
5. Merck Animal Health takes its responsibility very seriously and is committed to sharing all of these findings and to be transparent.