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As Beef Cattle Become Behemoths, Who Are Animal Scientists Serving?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Health Issues page and our Food Safety Resource Center page.

Cameras rolled one day last fall as Ty E. Lawrence led journalists into a room-sized meat locker on the campus of West Texas A&M University, where bloody sides of beef, still covered with a slick layer of ivory-colored fat, hung from steel hooks. Dressed in a white lab coat, a hard hat on his head, Lawrence pointed to the carcass of a Holstein that had been fed a new drug called Zilmax. He noted its larger size compared with the nearby body of a steer never given the drug.

"This is thicker, and it's plumper," said Lawrence, an associate professor of animal science, pointing at the beast's rib-eye. "This animal right here," he said, waving his hand at the pharmaceutically enhanced meat, "doesn't look like a Holstein anymore."

Convincing ranchers that Zilmax will transform their cattle into bovine Schwarzeneggers has been part of Lawrence's work ever since the drug was introduced by Intervet, a subsidiary of Merck, the global pharmaceutical company. The tour he led of the carcasses in his lab was just one of many events where he has helped Intervet sell Zilmax. He's given speeches to ranchers and written an article for a beef-industry magazine to promote the drug. He's repeatedly let Intervet include his comments in news releases, including one in which he said the drug could "revolutionize the beef production system."

Lawrence is hardly alone. Scores of animal scientists employed by public universities have helped pharmaceutical companies persuade farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics, hormones, and drugs like Zilmax to make their cattle grow bigger ever faster. With the use of these products, the average weight of a fattened steer sold to a packing plant is now roughly 1,300 pounds-up from 1,000 pounds in 1975.


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