Back when the initial National Beef Quality Audit was conducted in 1991, beef packers reported a high incidence of injection-site lesions in chuck, round and other valuable beef cuts, resulting in excessive trimming and lost value. In response, the Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) program invested heavily in developing guidelines and educating producers to use injection practices that prevent such damage.

Recently, beef producers increasingly have adopted the use of pneumatic darts and other remote-injection methods. The darts, typically fired from a specialized rifle powered by compressed CO2 or a .22 caliber blank cartridge, provide the convenience of injecting cattle in the field without the need to capture and restrain the animal.

However, a BQA advisory statement notes there are no BQA guidelines for the administration of injectable drugs or products with the use of these remote injection devices. The statement details concerns that these remote injections could result in administration of products to non-approved injection sites, along with a number of other potential problems with the practice.

John Maas, DVM, an emeritus professor at the University of California and long-time rancher, serves as BQA Advisory Board chair at NCBA. He expresses concerns with darts based in part on experiences in the cervid industry, where producers commonly use remote injections because of the difficulty and stress associated with capturing and restraining deer and related animals. Cervid producers, Maas says, report problems such as “gut shots,” broken limbs, darting the wrong animal and difficulty in establishing animal ID for treatment records.

The BQA advisory lists a range of concerns:

·         Inaccurate dosing due to an inability to weigh cattle in the field. Under-dosing of antibiotics can reduce efficacy and contribute to emergence of resistant pathogens. Over-dosing increases production costs and could affect withdrawal times.

·         In some cases, the darts cannot accommodate the volume of product required for an appropriate dose.

·         Lack of precision in drug delivery could result in off-label use of a drug, such as subcutaneous delivery of an intramuscular drug.

·         Accurate individual identification and medication records could become a challenge, resulting in inaccurate withdrawal-time assignments or a need to manage a group of cattle based on withdrawal times of one or a few treated animals.

·         Inaccurate shot placement could result in needles penetrating ligaments, joints or other tissues resulting in pain, injury and ineffective treatment.

·         Needles could break off and remain in the animal, or darts that remain in the animal and later drop off could later become a hazard to animals and personnel.

·         If the user tries to target the BQA-recommended injection triangle on the neck, it increases the possibility of the dart hitting sensitive tissue in the head such as the eye or cranial nerves. 

Soon after the BQA advisory became public, Pneu-Dart Inc., a leading manufacturer of remote drug-delivery (RDD) devices, acknowledged that some of the stated concerns are valid, and stressed that through continued awareness and education, the issues can be successfully addressed.

Pneu-Dart has committed to several steps to help ensure safety and proper use of RDD devices.

·         Within the next few months 100 percent of all Pneu-Dart darts will be equipped with pat­ent-pending Slo-Inject technology, which reduces the rate of injection and according to the company will virtually eliminate the potential for unintentional Sub-Q versus IM injections and vise-versa.

·         The company is finalizing a certified online educational program for all users, which will launch within the next few months.

·         Pneu-Dart has scheduled a one-hour prime-time television program, which will air on RFD-TV December 14, 2015. The broadcasted program will consist of a roundtable discussion on the use of remote drug delivery with one of the many topics focusing on the importance of a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) when administering medication.

·         Pneu-Dart, Inc. will be extending invitations to institutions to participate in a fully funded program documenting reduced stress levels and the efficacy of drugs delivered remotely.

·         The company invites members of the beef industry to embrace the need for RDD education, contribute to their efforts, and support RDD certification.

Based on private conversations with veterinarians, many agree with the BQA concerns but also believe remote injections have some legitimate, limited uses. Treating cattle in remote pastures, far from a squeeze chute or corral, could reduce stress compared with other options. They also indicated that low-dose antibiotics that provide a full dose in a single injection are most appropriate for this application. However, darts should not be routinely used simply for convenience, and the applicator needs to exercise good judgment in shooting from an appropriate range and at the appropriate target.

The full BQA advisory statement is available online at BQA.org