Highly Toxic Animal Growth Drug Blocked by Codex
A major drug provided for years to stimulate muscle growth in cattle was just blocked for further use for a second time in 2018.
That drug is zilpaterol hydrochloride, manufactured under the tradename Zilmax® by Intervet, a subsidiary of Merck Corporation. It is what is known as a betaadrenergic agonist (BAA) compound. It is prescribed for use with cattle and other food animals to cause nutrients to move away from excess fat production, the norm for how they would be handled without the drug, to help produce more muscle meat in cattle. That produces a leaner and in theory more valuable animal. It further makes it possible to increase the size of cattle far more efficiently than without the presence of the drug. It also produces more useful meat to “harvest” when slaughtering the animal.
Merck Corporation’s own website promoting the drug sings its many values to farmers. According to its cover information, it helps produce more beef from less cattle, helping make beef more affordable. To assist American families where “nearly one in five U.S. families [struggle] to put food on the table”, the availability of more beef at a lower cost is important, the site says. When using Zilmax, “farmers grow another 105 semi-loads of boneless beef per week”.
Merck doesn't mention that even without the use of its products, consumption of beef can cause cancer, heart disease and other serious health problems.
The way zilpaterol hydrochloride works is similar in some ways to how steroids work. Its anabolic properties help stimulate excess muscle growth – but at a significant toxic cost for the animals. In a study conducted by scientists at North Dakota State University involving the use of zilpaterol and horses, when three otherwise healthy horses were fed zilpaterol in quantities similar to what might be used for cattle, the horses began to see negative impacts almost immediately. Within only 25 minutes of consuming the drug, the horses began showing nervousness, began sweating heavily and manifested muscle tremors. Within minutes their heart rates went up. Those muscle tremors continued for as much as a week and the elevated heart rates lasted up to two weeks before returning to a normal level. Further medical evaluation showed signs of muscle damage and kidney damage from the use of the drug. These tests are described in detail in, Wagner, Sarah A. et. al., “Adverse Effects of Zilpaterol Administration in Horses: Three Cases”, published in April 2008 issue of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, Volume 28 Issue 4, pages 238-243.
It is logical to assume that cattle and humans exposed to the drug would experience serious symptoms.
Such drugs don’t just stay in the animals which originally received the medications. They are also passed through during the slaughtering process and eventually consumed by human beings in the end product as well. Though exact results on what happens to humans afterwards has not been studied as thoroughly as for use with the animals themselves, the result is clearly toxic and dangerous also.
This is far from an isolated study, and information like this was slowly making its way through the animal food production pharmaceuticals industry. This is part of why, when the Codex Committee on Residues of Veterinary Drugs met in April 2018 in Chicago, the committee soundly blocked approval of the zilpaterol medicine as a safe drug in use with animal production. The same drug family came up again at the larger 41st session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission held in Rome, Italy, from July 2-6, 2018. There it was blocked again for further distribution.
These are positive steps in a world dominated by toxic drugs which unnecessarily hurt animals and propagate throughout the food chain. It also shows how sound science can defeat even the strongest lobbying by industry providers like Merck, when animal and human safety is at stake.