Beta Agonists

February 17, 2014

You may be concerned about how drugs you have heard of, such as growth promotants in cattle, are used on today's farms and ranches and whether this means there are drugs in meat. The use of growth promotants in meat production has several benefits throughout the supply chain. Consumers want leaner meat and they want it at a price they can afford.

Beta-agonists are approved feed additives used as growth promotants and are deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are sometimes called repartitioning agents because they direct nutrients into muscle rather than fat. They are used in a targeted way based upon years of experience and research to ensure the animals receive the proper doses and do not exceed approved tolerance levels set by the FDA.

Interestingly, beta-agonists have been used and studied in human medicine long before they entered the animal production industries. In human medicine, beta-agonists are inhaled into the lungs of asthma patients to relax smooth muscles that are constricting airways; and pregnant women who are in premature labor have beta-agonists injected into their blood via IVs, to relax the smooth muscle tissue of the uterus, preventing premature births.

In cattle, they are used to enhance lean muscle, increase growth rate, and increase feed intake efficiency. Providing us with the ability to produce more beef with less cattle. This sustainable technology allows producers to reduce the natural resources needed to produce meat. For example, since 1977 U.S. cattle farmers are producing 31 percent more beef with fewer animals, feed, water and land. This increased efficiency has significant environmental benefits and reduces prices for consumers as well. Beta-agonists re-organize the energy spent on feed conversion, binding to receptors in a muscle cell where it initiates an increase in protein growth, resulting in an increase in muscle fiber size. Instead of adding mainly fat to the animal at the end of the finishing period, they signal the animal to continue to add additional lean muscle.

There are differences between specific beta-agonists, but those approved by the FDA include ractopamine (brand names include Optaflexx and Paylean) and zilpaterol (brand name Zilmax). They are used in the U.S. beef production since receiving FDA approval in 1999 and 2003. Beta-agonists are different than hormone implants in that Beta-agonists are compounds where the effects occur at the cellular level and do not affect the hormone status of the animal, thus not a steroid.

Q: So, are there unknown and over used drugs in meat?

A: No. Growth promotants in feed additives like beta-agonists can help cattle convert the nutrients in their feed to lean muscle, better using our natural resources to produce more food. Farmers and ranchers use these tested and proven tools carefully and in compliance with the stringent safe use policies set and enforced by the government and work closely with their veterinarians and nutritionists in order to protect the health of their animals and the health of consumers.


Great delivery. Solid arguments. Keep up the good effort.

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