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Respect the food supply with safe injection sites

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 24 April 2018
Injection site

When National Beef Quality audits from three decades ago began revealing bruised carcasses and primals, butchers and retailers told industry representatives there was a problem – cancer in their beef cattle.

“It wasn’t cancer,” said Dan Hale, an extension meat specialist at Texas A&M University. “It was people giving (injections) in the top half of the carcass.”

Dan Hale demonstrating

Thanks to repeated education efforts done through Beef Quality Assurance and improved training, the frequency of bruised carcasses and flawed injection sites has lowered significantly. What happened in one in four carcasses back in the ’80s and ’90s, Hale said, now happens in about one in 20 or one in 25.

Still the problem requires attention, as Hale and other Texas A&M specialists explained at the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association convention in Fort Worth on March 24.

Joe Paschal, an extension livestock specialist for Texas A&M in Corpus Christi, said the issue is not major in every carcass at the processing stage. “But if they see any (bruised carcasses), they have to stop the line, clean up access, and that costs downtime as well as a loss of product.”

Surveys reveal the issue showed up in 1991 beef quality audits as a primary issue in the top 10 concerns within the beef eating experience. It has since dropped lower on the list but remains in the top 10, although it’s no longer prevalent in feed cattle.

“We used to give shots in the hind quarter,” Paschal reviewed. “That was the round steak. Wherever you’d give an injection and you do damage, you insult the meat muscle fibers. When those muscle fibers start to heal, then what happens is you create a lot of gristle. That affects the overall tenderness. And it can happen as much as 3 inches away from the injection site.”

New techniques, new labels

The entire industry recognizes the issue. One starting technique was to move away from hind-quarter injections and go to the neck. That still presents issues, Paschal explained, since any lesions in those areas could affect the flat iron steak region.

“If you get too close to that shoulder blade, you have the possibility of intramuscular injection and have it move over into the flat iron steak.

“So we’ve got to get people thinking about using a tented technique in subcutaneous (SQ) injections.”

A tented SQ shot requires the administrator to use both hands and pull the hide back. The animal must be properly restrained. It could also require a smaller needle, or a bevil needle, that’s less sharp and folds skin up so you don’t have to use both hands.

Producers must also pay attention to drug labels. Each drug comes with three labels, Paschal explained – on the box, in the box and on the bottle. The bottle has the most accurate and accessible label, he said.

“You need to read the dosage, the route of administration, what it’s supposed to be used for, the species it’s supposed to be used in and, most importantly, the expiration date,” said Paschal.

Other factors include using clean needles, changing needles at least by 10 uses or if they’re dull and using less than 10 cc’s per injection site for most products.

“If you have to give 12 cc’s, use two sites. If on the neck and on the same side, make sure those are at least a hand’s width apart and in front of that shoulder blade.”

Tom Hairgrove, also an extension specialist with Texas A&M, said new chutes provide more accessibility to the neck area, but if equipment is older, make sure you’re hitting the right area.

When needles bend after injections, many producers try bending it back. But that increases the likelihood of the needle breaking. If that happens, the needle could migrate, and the animal cannot go into the food supply.

Evidence in the cuts

The demonstration included a hind quarter and loin primal of a calf vaccinated 13 days prior to euthanization. Hale made cuts through the primals to illustrate how quickly carcass lesions and discoloration can take effect in a calf.

Hale showed one injection from weeks prior that makes a callus or spider-looking mark in the cut. “That’s not marbling. The animal is too young to have that in this spot,” he explained. “What happens is: As it assimilates that, the muscle starts to heal, and it goes away.

There’s no (residual), animal health product is not the issue by the time this animal is slaughtered. The issue is: We have this blemish in the muscle, and we’ve also changed the tenderness rating of this animal, as well.”

Hale said when a shot is administered, “It radiates for at least 3 inches around that muscle throughout the cut. So it really renders that much tougher product that’s less desirable from a consumer standpoint.”

Hairgrove said producers must make sure animal health products have been eliminated before they leave the premises. “Don’t assume you’ve got three or four days before that happens.”

Since auction barns ask producers to sign an affidavit that livestock have gone through withdrawal, “You are legally and criminally involved if you don’t sign that correctly,” Hale added.

When a label specifically requires administration in one area but is given in another, it also constitutes extra-label use, Hairgrove added.

Using the beef

Hale said when the processor discovers the affected areas, “Over time, all it will become is gristle or fat. He’ll throw it into ground beef.” But the carcass will get a discount.

Hale and Hairgrove showed a carcass gray-greenish area injected with oxytetracycline that will eventually turn into “a solid white mass.”

“There’s nothing from a food safety issue that’s happened with this,” Hale reiterated. “It’s a beef quality issue.

“By the time you’ve given your shots, they’re not going to go to harvest by 120 to 180 days. So that thing’s long gone. But that product has turned into fat and gristle.”

There are multiple resources, using the beef checkoff, BQA and, Hairgrove explained, to make injection site conducive to protecting beef quality.

“Any time you put it into the food system, read the label and honor the food system,” he said.  end mark

PHOTO 1: Dan Hale’s cutting knife points to an intramuscular injection site that went too far on a calf injected 13 days prior to euthanization.

PHOTO 2: Dan Hale from Texas A&M University demonstrates scar tissue that originated from improper injection sites on a calf. Photos by David Cooper.

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