Beef packer Cargill announced Monday that it will suspend further purchases of cattle fed the beta-agonist Zilmax - pending its review by product manufacturer Merck - and will have all Zilmax-fed animals out of the supply chain by September's end.
Tyson Fresh Meats was the first company to question Zilmax's safety in early August after reports of potential lameness and animal welfare issues associated with its use. The product is used to help animals put on more muscle and less fat late in the finishing period.
"While Cargill has not linked Zilmax to any specific incidents involving animal well-being, the company does believe more research is necessary to answer recently raised questions regarding the use of this product," the company said in a statement.
Merck has subsequently suspended production of the product as part of an effort to investigate animal welfare claims. The company plans a five-step review process that includes recertification of all product handlers and packers and the formation of an animal health advisory board.
Dr. Mike Siemens, Cargill's head of animal welfare and husbandry will represent Cargill on Merck's new advisory board.
Cargill was the last major beef packer to begin accepting cattle fed Zilmax, only allowing the beta-agonist's use in 2012 due to thinning herds as a result of the drought.
The company notes that there are no food safety issues associated with Zilmax or its decision to suspend the product's use. Instead, the company reinforced that the decision is linked to a commitment to ensure the welfare of cattle.