Beef industry is vigilant with drug residue elimination
United States consumers may have a better chance at winning the lottery than finding drug residue in the beef they purchase in the grocery store, or in the steak they eat at a restaurant. Unfortunately, negative national attention from groups like HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and misinformation by the media have had a louder voice with consumers than the American beef industry.
According to Dr. Dee Griffin, University of Nebraska Feedlot Production Management Veterinarian, every one involved in the beef industry needs to stay vigilant about the proper management of vaccinations given to cattle. Griffin spoke to a group of ranchers and feedlot operators during the Veterinary and Feedlot Day at the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Classic in Kearney, Neb.
The industry is making tremendous progress in making beef one of the safest meats to eat. In 1991, a National Beef Quality Audit found 21.6 percent of the fed cattle had injection site blemishes in the top butt. By 1999, a new audit found that number had dropped to 3.2 percent. According to Griffin, the latest numbers from 2008 indicate that number is down to 0.00199 in beef cows, and 0.00007 in feeder cattle. “The chances of a consumer finding residue in a steak they order at a restaurant is extremely low,” he said.
Griffin said it is important for consumers to get the message that the highest targeted samples of beef indicate that the residue rates are very low. “Our problem is the media. People like Katie Couric, and other reporters out there, are saying we have (residues) in our meat. We also have groups like HSUS out there broadcasting meat in a negative light. Consumers don’t know who we are, and they don’t know whether to trust us. We need to find a way to change all that,” he said.
Griffin told producers and feeders that they can help by preventing residue from contaminating the meat. “The most positive way to fix this, is to get that number to zero. The way you can all help is by giving vaccines correctly, and by not sending your cattle to market with residue,” he said. “God didn’t give us cattle with antibiotic in them,” he said. “We put it there.”
Injection site issues came to the forefront in 1992. Shortly after, the Beef Quality Assurance program was created, and beef producers and feeders have had the opportunity to learn the proper management of vaccinations.
“The goal was to get the needle out of the meat,” Griffin said. “We needed to get the vaccinations so they are all given subcutaneously, instead of intramuscularly.” Although it has been a challenge for animal drug and pharmaceutical companies to comply, they have stepped up, and within a few years, developed many vaccinations that could be given under the skin, Griffin said.
“Intramuscular injections in the eye of the round is a costly mistake,” Griffin explained. Sandwich shops like Subway use the round for sandwich meat. Injection sites have no place in that cut of meat, Griffin said.
Not only does Griffin encourage producers and feeders to manage how they give vaccines, but also what type of medicine they give their cattle. They are encouraged to seek out the most effective drug for their cattle when they are sick. “I just can’t recommend sulfa drugs and penicillin anymore,” he said. “They just aren’t effective. Drugs like penicillin do not penetrate tissues, so they are no good for cattle with lung infections,” he said.
“Sulfa drugs given to a cow only deliver nine ppm at its maximum to her system,” he continued. “The diagnostic labs have said a cow needs 350 ppm to be effective. So, in order to give a sick cow sulfa drugs, you would have to give her 35 pills to do any good.”
Griffin said penicillin and sulfa drugs are the biggest over-the-counter drugs that cause residue problems in beef. Flunixin and Ceftiofur are the biggest veterinarian-prescribed drugs that cause residue problems, he continued. But most of those are in dairy cattle. “Flunixin and Ceftiofur aren’t bad drugs, people just aren’t following the proper withdraw times for them,” he said.
Griffin said the doctoring crew at the feedlot needs to work closely with the feeding crew to diagnose sick cattle. “When they feed the cattle, they need to take note of which cattle seemed interested in eating and which ones don’t,” he stated.
Griffin emphasized how important it to notice a sick cow immediately. “By seven to 10 days after an animal gets a lung infection, the lungs will seal off and medicine won’t have any affect,” he explained. “Many times, by the time calves arrive at a feedlot, they are already at day seven to 10, and it is too late to doctor them.”
“Timing is critical,” Griffin stated. “You need to get to know your cattle. If they know and trust you, they may let you see that they are sick on day one.”
Griffin urged cattlemen to give a sick animal vaccine right away, not to put it off. “When I give a drug, I want to give a maximum concentration without killing the calf. I want the dosing to stay up to the maximum until it can kill all the resistant bugs,” he said.
Griffin said producers and feeders can use the DART (Depression, Appetite, Respiration, and Temperature) method to pick out which cattle are sick. “Don’t put too much emphasis on animal’s running a temperature,” Griffin cautioned. “Temperature will lie to you, and it can vary. Just because an animal is running a temperature doesn’t mean it is sick. Don’t let your thermometer do your thinking, talk to your feed crew. Appetite is a huge factor.”
The veterinarian also encouraged producers to monitor the animal, not the temperature. “It is important to develop a treatment protocol when an animal becomes sick,” he explained. “Use good protocol, and give the medicine a chance to work. When it is time to let go, let go. Don’t keep treating them. Use the best drug you can to start with. There are some cattle that you can treat and make a difference, and there are some you can’t,” he said.
“It is important to look at your cattle often, and if they are sick, pick drugs that will do the job,” he said. “Giving antibiotics that are well thought out, and given timely is really all you can do for a sick animal.”