Why beef is losing its flavor

Feedlots have begun giving cattle a drug that causes the animal to bulk up on muscle, losing fat in the process.

By Kim Peterson Feb 14, 2013 6:04PM
Image: Close up of steak and salad -- Image Studios, UpperCut Images, Getty ImagesIf you think steaks don't taste as flavorful as they used to, you might be on to something.

Feedlots have begun giving cattle a new drug with a curious side effect: It makes steaks less flavorful and juicy, Slate reports. But the drug, Zilmax, helps cattle bulk up on muscle in the last few weeks of their lives -- which brings in more money for feedlot owners.

Zilmax was originally created to help people with asthma, Christopher Leonard writes on Slate. But animal researchers found that it makes animals produce more muscle and less fat. That means there are more pounds of beef to sell, but the meat doesn't have that glorious marbling that turns a steak into a masterpiece on the grill.

Zilmax is sold by Merck Animal Health, one of the fastest-growing units of Merck (MRK). On its website, Merck describes Zilmax as "a feed supplement that enables an animal’s natural metabolism to more efficiently convert feed energy to lean, healthy, delicious beef."

Four major meat companies control 85% of the market, Leonard writes, and they reportedly all use Zilmax now. They include Tyson Foods (TSN), JBS SA (JBSAF), Cargill and National Beef Packing Co. Cargill reportedly resisted using Zilmax for years, but finally got on board last year when everyone else was doing it.

Last year's drought made it even easier for Merck to sell Zilmax. Farmers were forced to keep herds low, in fact the size of the U.S. cattle herd fell to its smallest since 1952. But Zilmax lets a feedlot owner get more meat from the cow without having to give it any additional food and water. Leonard reported that the drug could add 33 pounds of extra meat to a cow, making the animal about $30 more valuable.

Merck Animal Health says that Zilmax doesn't cause the quality of steaks to suffer, and that people can't tell the difference between beef that has and has not been treated with the drug.

Zilmax usage has really taken off since 2011. If Merck is right, you may have not noticed a thing. But if you've wondered recently why steak suddenly seems more muscular, less fatty and a bit more bland, now you have your answer.

More on moneyNOW

Tags: Food
Feb 15, 2013 1:50AM

Buffalo is very tasty and drug free.

Feb 15, 2013 1:43AM
The reason meat doesn't have as much flavor is because of grass feed and the healthier/leaner meat that people want for that reason. I'm a cattle farmer in Iowa and we also have the corn to feed our cattle. Corn is what puts the fat marbling in the meat, grass feed does not marble the meat and thus you get tough  piece of meat with less flavor, although it is healthier for you it has no flavor. I'm not sure this story has any scientific evidence to it and is used as a scare tactic to get people roused and get a buzz going. The beef industry is extremely regulated by the government. 

The four companies do not raise the beef, they process and package it when the beef is ready for market. The article  also refers to using these drugs to put more meat on "cows" and cows are typically only used for breading, you would not eat a cow or sell it for meat. What you are eating is a steer. Do not believe everything you read.
Feb 15, 2013 1:40AM

Anyone that is surprised that  these comp[anies are putting the health of Americans behind

profit for themselves is dumber than the cows they are poisoning. Wake up and plant your garden.!


p.s. I heard the other day politicians take bribes. Ya think?

Feb 15, 2013 1:38AM
things have got to change....uneccesary drugs are COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.
Feb 15, 2013 1:37AM

Oh!!! But I did notice around that time they started using Zilmax that the beef doesnt seem to taste good nor feel good as if it was not able to feed my body thats why I changed my source for meat but I beleive they alsoare poisoning us now.

Feb 15, 2013 1:37AM
Why do we have a FDA?What they are allowing to be put in our food is ridiculous.They are suppose to be looking after the best interest of the consumer not the company's that are producing our food.With the grown hormones,antibiotics and now this stuff that helps the cows beef up right before slaughter.I guess its ok to them to sacrifise a little flavor for some bulk.When is it going to stop?
Feb 15, 2013 1:34AM
now it all makes sense.......man this is widespread, i was wondering why even hamburgers dont taste the same......NO MORE STORE BOUGHT MEAT FOR THIS ALLIGATOR.
Feb 15, 2013 1:32AM
I stopped eating fast food.The meat tastes bad.It tastes like they have added strange ingredients to the hamburger meat.The meat now has a wangy after taste.
Feb 15, 2013 1:31AM
i definetly noticed......i thought my tastes were just changing with age and almost completely quit eating beef because it just didn't taste as flavorful as it once did........this has worked unfavorably for them i have to believe if my experience is shared by others.
Feb 15, 2013 1:30AM
What is the drug doing to our bodies?Does the drug make the cattle sick?
Hail to the almighty dollar. Whatever the cost is to consumers.
Feb 15, 2013 1:28AM
I feel sorry for the cattle.I wonder if the drugs make them feel bad.It is enough that they live short miserable lives so we can have meat and then they are pumped full of drugs and hormones.
Feb 15, 2013 1:20AM
Do you folks actually believe the FDA,and DEPT OF AGRICULTURE would allow this if it wasn:t safe?The reason Beef is getting lest flavorful is everybody wants LEAN MEAT.You folks want flavor go for the fatter cuts and the 80% Burger.Been in the Meat biz for 31 years.
Feb 15, 2013 1:15AM
unfortunately, even range cattle here, are finished with bulking chemicals. When available, try New Zealand or Alberta free range. 
Feb 15, 2013 1:15AM
There is not one person for giving animals shots.  Why is the FDA and government letting the farmer get away with this.
Feb 15, 2013 1:14AM
And we wonder why cancer rates are on the rise in young people, all this junk in our food.
Feb 15, 2013 1:11AM
I'm going organic meat.  There should be laws protecting consumers against these practices.
Feb 15, 2013 1:06AM
Does that mean that when we eat this meat, we too will gain weight?  This isn't good at all.
Feb 15, 2013 1:05AM

genetically enhanced fruits and veggies...steroid and drug laced meats...


now you know why theyre putting bacon and other salt heavy spices in everything.


ive noticed the lack of taste in meats for several years.


i threw some cabbage leaves out to fertilize my yard a few weeks (not a typo yes i said WEEKS) ago. its still there..green as the day i got it from the store. birds bugs and rabbits wont even eat it.


are we done being complacent yet people?

Feb 15, 2013 12:59AM
Buy Fresh Buy Local and that's meat as well.  City dwellers should check out their farmers market and if there is no meat products there ASK for it .  I live on a farm and we raise chickens free range.  I know who raises lambs and who raises beef and honey and corn and veggies and we all know who raises food the way that WE would want it, without drugs.  If you know someone at a farmers market that you can trust, ask them who has the good stuff.
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