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Cattle carcass contamination increasing

The incidence of broken needles is up tenfold, and 100,000 pounds of beef 
are thrown out yearly because of buckshot contamination

Consumer confidence in Canadian beef is being eroded by a preventable problem — carcasses contaminated with needles, buckshot, and drug residues.

“We want to make sure that all the cattle we’re producing — calves and cull cattle together — are going to be able to have a steak or roast off them without somebody either getting a penicillin allergic reaction or finding a broken needle,” said Shannon Argent, provincial co-ordinator for Verified Beef Production.

“There’s a lot of things that we as producers need to think about in our cull cattle beyond the auction mart to make sure that (our cows) turn into (good food) for our consumers.”

The implications of improper injection techniques are far reaching, Argent said at a Foothills Forage and Grazing Association workshop last month.

Today, a single cow will yield enough beef for 542 consumers.

“That’s a lot of consumers for one contaminated carcass,” she said.

Many producers think they don’t have to worry about their cull cattle “because it’s all trim.”

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about cull cattle,” said Argent, who also has a cattle operation near Cremona. “If that cow’s in good enough shape, they’re taking roasts and steaks. They can cut stuff now in so many different ways that they’ll sell it however they can.”

Getting worse

Contaminated carcasses are on the rise in Canada, and broken needles and buckshot are the major culprits.

“People laugh when you tell them there’s buckshot contamination in beef, but 100,000 pounds of beef are thrown out yearly because of buckshot contamination,” said Argent.

Last year, a toddler in Red Deer broke a tooth on buckshot in beef, she said.

Bird hunting is suspected to be the major cause of the problem. Producers should avoid grazing cattle on pastures behind hunting blinds or feeding areas for game birds, and warn hunters not to shoot in the direction of cattle.

Broken needles are also making news in Canada, with two major cases hitting newspapers last year alone. Packing plants have gone from “two broken needles a year five years ago to 20 to 30 today,” said Argent. If the needle is deep in the muscle, “they can’t even catch it at the packing plant,” she said.

“The ones that make it to the news are generally deep in a roast.”

That’s why injections should be given in the neck instead of the rump, she said.

“When you’re injecting in the rump, those are your expensive cuts. Any trim from an injection site is going to cost more money,” said Argent. “You can’t get a roast or a steak off the neck, but you can get a lot of trim.”

Producers should also have a protocol in place to deal with broken needles.

“We know that when you get in a hurry, you’re going to go down the alley and give your vaccines to your cows quickly,” said Argent. “But if you’re going to do that, you’d better be prepared for the consequences if you do have a broken needle.

The bottom line is, “you cannot sell that animal,” she said.

“They can’t go to the auction mart. At the end of that animal’s life, you’d better be prepared to slaughter it for your own use,” said Argent. “If you’re going to give injections without checking your guns, you’d better be prepared to eat that animal if it has a broken needle.”

‘Bad things happen’

Drug residues are another growing concern for consumers.

“It comes back to being able to prove we use our antibiotics responsibly and on label,” said Argent.

The first thing producers need to do is keep good treatment records. When giving an injection, producers need to track animal ID, when it was treated, what it was treated with, how it was administered, and how much of the product was used.

“Your treatment records can be your papers, your scale head software, your own computer records — write it on the damn barn wall,” she said. “We don’t care where you write it, as long as it’s somewhere you can check before you ship.”

Also, read the product label carefully and don’t “just go with common sense on what you think it might be.”

Common drug withdrawal periods can range from 10 to 60 days, depending on the drug and how it’s administered.

Some drugs, such as Penpro, can only be used in an intramuscular injection.

“If you use it subcutaneously, you’ll get illegal residues. It won’t kill them, but you might be shipping cattle with penicillin residue, and there’s a lot of people with penicillin allergies.”

Other drugs, like Excede, can only be administered at the base of the ear.

“The withdrawal period is three days if you give it at the base of the ear, and they haven’t even established a withdrawal time when that drug has been given subcutaneously. It’s over 90 days,” said Argent.

“That is a drug that is a Category 1 of highest human importance. If they have carcasses coming through with cephalosporin residue in it, we’re not going to be able to use it at all in animal agriculture.

“If you don’t read the label, bad things can happen.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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