Hey, look, Current Events.
With impeccable timing, Big Pharma is making another play for muscle-building cattle drugs, and, this time around, consumers will be left to question the health effects of ingesting meat laced with an asthma medication.
Wall Street Journal reports this week that Merck will again roll out Zilmax, a drug added to cattle feed to pack on muscle in weeks leading up to slaughter. The FDA approved Zilmax back in 2006, and, in turn, some 25 million heads of cattle were juiced up in the ensuing years. Then, Merck pulled the plug on Zilmax last year when companies like Tyson, a major meat processor, said it wouldn’t purchase any more cattle that had been administered the drug. Tyson said animals that consumed Zilmax showed up from the farm with ambulatory problems, with some unable to walk, according to the report. Cargill, too, pulled out amid product quality concerns. Part of a class of drugs initially developed to treat asthma, Zilmax’s health effects on humans isn’t clear, though China (China!) and several EU countries have banned it for fear that ingesting meat from Zilmax-fed cattle poses health risks.
No doubt looking to profit off a drought that has thinned cattle, Merck is back with Zilmax 2.0 and hoping to undertake a sweeping study involving 250,000 heads of cattle. Meat producers, retailers and restaurants are backing away slowly, citing animal welfare issues. That, and the public is more cognizant than ever on food-related issues. In effect, we know too much.
“We don’t want to fiddle with it as long as there’s a known animal-welfare issue,” said a Costco executive. “Costco is not going to agree to take the meat until we’ve got the right assurances in place.”
In other words, Costco doesn’t want steroid meat from suffering cows if choosing to carry it pisses off customers.
Consumers drive consumer markets. That’s economics. The public influencing whether or not Company A carries Product B is by no means new, only magnified now in the information age, when consumer outrage over something like a meat addictive can prompt large grocery stores to stop selling beef containing “pink slime” (As Wegmans and BJ’s did). Or a food blogger whose online missive shames Subway into pulling a harmful chemical from its breads and then crafting an ensuing marketing campaign touting the since-removed Azodicarbonamide, better known as the “yoga mat chemical”.
Now, more than ever it seems, we consumers understand our capacity to influence markets through a unified voice and our individual dollars. Pressing for more transparency in areas like the food industry, consumers appear to have forced not just a level of accountability but an expectation that producers and retailers will respond or risk precious profits. Even as corporate power in the political sphere grows by the week, it’s nice to be reminded that the public has the might to pull strings on food policy. Let’s hope we do.