Hoofless Cattle: Merck Claims no Link to Growth Stimulant

Over the last decade, foodies, environmentalists, animal rights advocates and health officials have spoken out about the dangers of “unnatural” foods. The excessive use of pesticides, the unhealthy – even deadly – side effects of hormone injected cattle, and the implications of genetically modified produce; all reasons many of us have gone organic, willing to spend extra on free-range and all-natural. Last year, cattle producers joined the chorus, taking aim at pharma giant Merck when its growth stimulant Zilmax allegedly caused disastrous side effects. Merck denies there is any clinical research to validate the claims and is currently strategizing a market re-launch of the drug.

Reports of side effects

Prominent news service, Reuters launched its own investigation into Zilmax, and interviewed beef processors about changes they witnessed in their cows after administering the drug.  The first company they met with was Tyson and Cargill, who banned Zilmax last year. The decision was made after 17 animals hobbled into the slaughterhouse – they had lost their hooves.  All 17 were euthanized. In its review of FDA data, Reuters found 285 cases of unexpected death, disfigurement, and euthanasia in Zilmax-fed cattle. Several countries, including China will no longer permit meat from Zilmax-fed cattle past their borders, citing concerns over food safety certification.

Merck’s says drug is safe

Merck told Reuters that it brought in third party investigators to review the instances of hoof-loss, illness and death among cattle who took Zilmax. It was determined that the drug was not responsible for these problems; however, Merck has committed to continuing its observation of any side effects by way of ongoing observations in the field. Some veterinary experts told Reuters they aren’t convinced Zilmax is a safety problem. Similar to adverse-effects reports filed on human drugs, there just isn’t enough evidence to suggest a breach of pharmaceutical quality control with regard to the growth stimulant.

The future of Zilmax

Merck hopes to win over prominent, well-respected animal experts in order to turn around public opinion and successfully re-launch Zilmax. Time is of the essence because already, cattle producers have turned to a feed additive made by competitor Eli Lilly. Tyson and Cargill say they won’t use Zilmax again until its safety has been definitively verified. With many of its associates firmly against the stimulant, the processor is anxious about losing customers. So far, Merck has made $160 million in sales from Zilmax, and can be expected to pursue vigorously the rehabilitation of its global reputation.

Did you know that much of our meat contains stimulants and hormones administered to increase yield?