ABC’s Radio National interviews Beef Central over beta agonist issue

Beef Central, 05/11/2013


Beef Central publisher Jon Condon yesterday participated in an interview with ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph presenter, Cameron Wilson over issues surrounding the possible adoption of beta agonists in beef production in Australia.

The radio interview, which can be accessed here in audio form, follows recent discussions on the topic held during the feedlot industry’s BeefWorks technical forum held at Kerwee feedlot on the Darling Downs.

Also interviewed for the program were Integrated Animal Production nutritionist, Dr Rob Lawrence, Australian Lot Feeders Association president Don Mackay, world renowned animal behaviourist Dr Temple Grandin and Cattle Council of Australia’s Mark Harvey-Sutton.

The Bush Telegraph program, primarily rural content put before a city audience, suggested during yesterday’s segment that the beef industry was facing a dilemma of whether to embrace new beta agonist growth promotants that have produced remarkable productivity results in US cattle.

The company behind one of the beta agonist products, MSD, a division of the US pharmaceutical company, Merck, has applied to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority for approval to market its beta agonist, Zilmax, for use in Australian feedlots.

In the US, Zilmax has been taken off the US and Canadian market by its manufacturer, Merck, after meat processors, Tyson Foods and Cargill, suspended their intake of Zilmax-treated cattle from September 30. The catalyst for that action was concerns raised by animal behaviour and handling expert, Professor Temple Grandin, who noticed lameness and immobility in some cattle that had been treated with zilpaterol, which she put down to a lack of flexibility in dosage and feed intake.

"Some animals eat a lot more zilpaterol than others, but this is something that's clearly not acceptable and we have to make sure that this problem goes away," Professor Grandin says in the interview.

To further complicate matters, markets like Russia, Taiwan and China, have banned US beef because of the country’s use of beta agonists in beef production.

So should Australia maintain its clean green image with minimal growth promotants, or take advantage of benefits that would bring millions of dollars to the beef industry?

Australian Lot Feeders Association president, Don Mackay, told the recent BeefWorks conference that ALFA had not established a policy in favour of, or opposed to beta agonist registration in Australia.

“But we strongly suspect that the two companies involved in producing beta agonists will not push hard against the tide over registration in Australia, if there are issues in this country that make it less appropriate for their use than in the US,” he said.

“The US is a domestic-focussed market. Australia is a much more export-focussed market, and the risk for us, in export markets, is potentially high at the moment,” Mr Mackay said.

“From ALFA’s viewpoint, we don’t believe we are in a position where we have to come out and say we either support or reject the use of beta agonists in this country. There is a process to go through in registration, and we need to allow that process to proceed. At that point, we can then make a determination, as will the Government and authorities, as to whether this product, which has very clear commercial benefits, should be made available for use.”

“We need to go through that process before we start jumping off cliffs.”

Mr Mackay told Radio National yesterday that given that one of Australia’s two large supermarket groups did not allow the use of hormonal growth promotants, it could be assumed they would have a similar ‘fairly negative’ view of the use of beta agonists.

“We haven't been given formal advice or notification from the major supermarkets but I suspect they'd have the same view as everybody, that we need to make sure it doesn't have an impact on their customer's views of the product," he said.

Both Merck's Australian arm, MSD, and the APVMA declined to be interviewed for yesterday’s ABC Radio National program.


Scrutiny started back in July

Beef Central started investigating the issues surrounding beta agonist adoption in Australia way back in July, after Merck MSD initiated an Australian product registration process.

Beef Central’s three-part analysis, which can be accessed below, significantly pre-dated the dramatic events that unfolded in the US from August, which saw major processors place suspensions on slaughter of cattle treated with Zilpaterol, and MSD withdraw the product from sale, pending an investigation.

Content from Beef Central’s original July reports was widely used as a resource in discussions at national peak council and state farmer organisation level as industry bodies began the policy development process over the prospect of beta agonist registration.  

Cattle Council of Australia’s policy director Mark Harvey-Sutton told yesterday’s program CCA did not support the introduction of Zilmax in Australia, based solely on the impact it could have on trade with overseas customers.

Read Beef Central’s July reports on the issues surrounding adoption of beta agonists in Australian beef production here:





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