Beef & "Vitamin Z"

I just ruined lunch with a friend by bringing up a food story that’s been surprisingly undercovered, at least in the media outlets where I spend time. That would be “Vitamin Z,” a weight-gain supplement for cattle whose manufacturer has temporarily stopped selling it since feedlots and slaughterhouses started noticing the animals are looking odd (“as muscle-bound as athletes”) and behaving oddly (staggering, lying down like dogs). And it’s an unsettling story, not least because the stuff has been in use for nearly 10 years. Which to me was real news. The supplement, called Zilmax, had been increasingly added to cattle feed as the price of corn went up and the number of animals went down, according to the Reuters story linked here. (The Wall Street Journal ran an excellent piece on Monday, but it’s behind a paywall.) For the beef industry, squeezed for profits, the Z was a godsend; a producer could get an extra 30 pounds of saleable meat off each animal. And then Tyson said it would stop accepting beef raised with it. The FDA has approved the supplement, and as the Reuters story so carefully notes: there are no apparent threats to human, animal or food safety. Still, I’d rather know what’s in my food, and how it’s raised, and not have to read the business pages to learn it. They’re supposed to be boring.

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