In August 2013, shortly after the Tyson announcement, Merck Animal Health announced its “Five-Step Plan to Ensuring Responsible Beef” (see sidebar), which includes numerous Zilmax animal- safety and well-being trials. As a first step, the company assembled an independent advisory board to provide action recommendations, says Merck technical services nutritionist David Yates, PhD.
The advisory board consists of 22 members including scientists, veterinarians, nutritionists, large and small cattle feeders, packers and other industry representatives. The company agreed to follow the guidance of the advisory board in executing the other steps in the plan. They held a two-day face-to-face meeting in September and have had regular conference calls since for ongoing input.
The first of the five steps in the plan was to develop a new Zilmax Certification Plan, outlining a new process for certifying or re-certifying feedyards to feed the product. In developing the plan, Yates says company representatives explained the existing certification process to the advisory board, then split the board into independent teams and asked them to develop recommendations. Based on their input, the company developed the new plan, which gained approval from the full advisory board. Training for certification will require participation of a feedyard’s consulting veterinarian and nutritionist along with the operation’s management. Once the product returns to the market, Merck will control the product and limit its use to certified feedyards.
Merck also initiated a field-surveillance program during August and September 2013, when feedyards continued to feed Zilmax, working with third-party auditors to evaluate mobility of cattle in anti-mortem pens at packing plants. They evaluated 31,000 head of cattle from 450 lots at seven packing plants. The cattle comprised a non-controlled sample of the overall population of finished cattle, including some that were fed Zilmax, some that were fed Optaflexx and some that received no beta agonist. Auditors used a lameness scoring system, with “1” representing normal and “4” representing severely lame, with “2” and “3” representing mild to moderate lameness, respectively. In this study, they found 92.2 percent of cattle had normal mobility, 7.1 percent had mild lameness, meaning a slight hesitance to walk, 0.57 percent scored “3” for moderate lameness and 0.08 percent rated as severely lame or reluctant to move. According to the advisory board participants, this type of surveillance for mobility scoring had never been conducted for fed cattle.
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