When it comes to beef, marbling is key. This interspersed thin layers of fat throughout muscle is used to judge beef quality (that’s how Select, Choice & Prime are decided). It’s believed to play an important role in tenderness, flavor and moistness.
But when it comes to grain-fed beef produced in the US, marbling is about to become a lot less common.
Zilmax = More Beef, Less Quality
In a new Slate article entitled Why Beef is Becoming More Like Chicken, Christopher Leonard describes the introduction of a new feed supplement called Zilmax – a drug originally intended to treat asthma.
“A new cattle drug called Zilmax is being widely used in the industrial feedlots where most of America’s beef comes from, but not because it produces a better sirloin. In fact, it has been shown to make steak less flavorful and juicy…” he writes. “Zilmax is a highly effective growth drug, and it makes cattle swell up with muscle in the final weeks of their lives. And despite concerns within the industry, the economics of modern beef production have made the rise of Zilmax all but inevitable.”
You don’t just have to take his word for Zilmax’s effects though – here’s a product overview from Merck, producer of Zilmax.
When it comes down to it, the margins in commodity beef production are too narrow NOT to use Zilmax. According to Leonard, Feedlot managers are making the switch in the hopes of making just an extra $30 in profit per animal.
Zilmax isn’t the only strange thing being fed to cattle in the US
We’ve also written about the how’s and why’s of growth hormone use in grain-fed cattle, and antibiotics as feed supplements and byproducts in feed.
So What Do You Do?
…if you don’t want beef with all this stuff in it? Switch to specialty beef where producers focus on quality rather than quantity. Switch to beef from countries that outlaw the use of antibiotics, hormones, etc as growth promotants. Like our amazingly delicious New Zealand Grass-fed Angus Beef