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 14, 2013 7:04PM
I would pay extra to get grass fed natural beef. Grain feed, drugged up beef does not have the flavor of old school grass fed.
Feb 14, 2013 7:03PM
All those antibiotics they are feeding the beef cattle and dairy cows are going in our bodies - thus the increase in allergies, asthma, and other medical conditions.  Our poor little kids are growing up on medicine-laced food. 
Feb 14, 2013 6:32PM
just follow the money....forget about ethics
Feb 14, 2013 7:20PM
And guess what people, chicken ain't no different. Tasteless drug fed steriod grown yard birds. Grow them up fast, kill'm quick, sell ASAP. Who cares about the health of humans anymore?? It's all about $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
Feb 14, 2013 7:01PM
God damn, where is the FDA or EPA investigating this? If a person isn't sick, can they take these drugs? Then explain why we are giving them to animals, right before we kill them, then eat them?
Feb 14, 2013 7:19PM
I will continue to buy beef from a local farmer..I know what his cows eat.
Feb 14, 2013 6:51PM

I noticed this years ago, but the real reason, I believe, is because all the corn is being fed to the worthless production of ethanol instead of being fed to the cattle

Feb 14, 2013 7:04PM
OMG Are you kidding me..? When are we going to stop giving animals chemicals..? We already learned years ago they cause problems for humans, but sadly those meds will get into us anyway. That explains why the natural meet I buy tastes better than the "normal" stuff.  
Feb 14, 2013 7:12PM
Here in MT plenty of farmers or ranchers that will sell you a beef that is not all jacked up on steriods. They do taste delicious also!
Feb 14, 2013 7:11PM
When I commented on legalizing drugs, I didn't mean for cows!
Feb 14, 2013 6:47PM
$30 more meat after $30 of drugs.... just a guess
but I bet it is close....

Feb 14, 2013 6:48PM
My suspicions confirmed...I had a double cheeseburger at Macky D's for lunch and it was tasteless. I knew then and there something was terribly wrong.

20 thumbs down and counting...It's a pity, some people have no appreciation for sarcastic humor.
Feb 14, 2013 6:58PM
After finding out they glued steaks together to make them able to sell, who trusts any market chain to provide quality, unless they have the beef herd out behind the store?
Feb 14, 2013 7:07PM
That's why chuck steak usually has the most flavor.   More fat, more flavor.  True with any meat.
Feb 14, 2013 6:58PM
well, I guess I wont be eating beef any more....
Feb 14, 2013 7:09PM
I find beef less interesting when I found I could buy 4 Cornish Games Hens for the price of one Steak and now that I know the Feed lots are adding more chemicals to the Beef Stew Beef which will eventually poison my body is more so, then again losing out and Rabbit is looking even better.....
Feb 14, 2013 6:56PM
In twenty years when people start dyeing from an unknown disease look at Zilmax. Corps don't  2  sh*ts for people just the  Almighty Green Dollar...Just ask Mitt:
Feb 14, 2013 7:10PM
They are also allow to add saw dust to the meat...Just have a MCD burger and you can taste how dry it is...No flavor.
Feb 14, 2013 7:26PM
Hey Shill hunter, I guess you didn't know that cows were not designed to eat corn either.  They are supossed to eat grass. Grass fed beef costs more but it's the only thing worth eating or deer and bison.  With that said, you need to forget about the double cheese burgers, the only real food on that thing is the pickle.  As for the FDA etc, our food industry is run by Monsanto, the genetically modified gurus and all the rest are in their pockets.  There is a lot of information out there about food.  You need to know that what you are eating is designed to get you sick, send you to the doctor for prescriptions that you will never get off of.  As a society we need to demand good clean quality food, get our soil replenished, compost, let the farmers farm and stop playing Russian roulette with our lives. Our bodies are not laboratories.  It doesn't know what to do with all of the chemicals that our food industry allows to go in our food in addition to the pesticides that go on it. Our miraculous body tries to hang in there until it breaks down and the cancers, lymphomas diabetes etc take over. Learn about what you are eating and demand more from our elected officials. We really need to get this problem fixed. I was totally annoyed when I read an article stating that the baby boomers are not aging well due to certain diseases etc. We were the first generation exposed to fake food....TV DINNERS and its only gotton worse. Educate yourself and spread the word.
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