Injection site lesion message needs to hit dairy industry, expert says

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Apr 01, 2003

Fort Collins, Colo.-While the beef industry has made significant inroads in reducing injection site lesions in beef carcasses, veterinarians need to work to educate dairy producers on similar changes to injection practices.

The message comes from Dr. Gary C. Smith, the Monfort endowed chair professor at Colorado State University's (CSU) Animal Sciences Department. Smith speaks nationally to veterinary and producer groups about problems associated from injection site lesions and the economic losses to the beef industry. He has also been directly involved with the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) injection site lesion audit, which is now being conducted every five years. The next audit, slated in 2004, will likely look at top sirloin butts, rounds (from dairy vs. beef cattle), steers and heifers.

Smith recently spoke at the Western Veterinary Conference on the subject. He tells DVM Newsmagazine that veterinarians have helped educate producers a great deal on the problem of injection site lesions and it is working industry-wide to make changes. But there is much more work to be done, he adds.

Smith says that it is well documented that injection site lesions have a major detrimental impact to the economics of the beef industry. Simply changing where a producer gives an injection on the animal, from the back leg to the front of the shoulder can save the industry big bucks and reinforce the wholesomeness of the product. In addition, the industry had to recommend changing the route of administration from intramuscular to subcutaneous.

Smith adds that the whole issue surfaced in the late 1980s when pharmaceutical companies were being criticized because knots were developing after vaccine administration under the skin. "The buyers of cattle were penalizing those cattle with knots. So, the industry started putting injections in the muscle," Smith explains. "We had no idea what that did, because things we found out later on like the toughening of meat three inches away from the site of the needle penetration, or the fact that some of these sites were green and yellow and awful looking to consumers."

The result? The beef industry started making some changes to protect the quality and palatability of the product. NCBA commissioned CSU to conduct national injection site audits to determine the severity of the problem.

Smith says, "With regard to effecting change in production practices of U.S. cattlemen, the national injection-site audits have been immensely successful. Results of the first audit revealed that the incidence of injection-site lesions in top sirloin butts in July 1991 was 21.3 percent; results of the final audit in this series revealed that the incidence of injection-site lesions in top sirloin butts in July 2000 was 2.1 percent. Smith adds, "Veterinarians really embraced these changes and dramatically reduced the numbers."

"Most cattle were given shots on one side of their body, so that meant that about half of the cattle coming to harvest had been given shots in that area in the muscle."

The statistics from dairy animals used as beef is not nearly as impressive. In fact, an estimated 60 percent of round cuts from dairy animals had injection site lesions.

But if you ask dairy producers if they are going to change their injection practices, they will likely say no. The typical response is that they sell milk. "As long as they can keep the cow alive, wherever we have to shoot or poke or jab her. We don't care about the surplus cow and what she is worth. Are you absolutely sure that if we give the shot somewhere else, she will be able to produce the same amount of milk?"

Smith adds, the frequency of injection-site lesions in muscles of the round from beef and dairy cow carcasses declined by 11 and 25 percentage points, respectively, from 1998 to 2000. These reductions in the frequency of injection-site lesions are substantial, but not sufficient because one of five beef cattle rounds and more than one of three of dairy cattle rounds still have injection-site lesions. Injection-site lesions in beef and dairy rounds cause about $9 million in losses annually (Roeber et al), Smith says.

Smith's million dollar-plus message is this: Don't inject in a retail cut.

A matter of pride

So, how do you get a client to make changes in the way they inject animals?

Smith says, "I try to tell them it is a matter of pride. I say, 'You are not going to get a penny more for these animals if you do it right or you do it wrong. If you take pride in your industry and you want consumers to be satisfied with your products, then you need to change some of the things you do.' "

Smith explains, "So often we talk about hot-iron branding and castration, and someone in the audience will stand up and say 'Well, I'll do it when they pay me to do it.' I always respond that it is disappointing that you would think that little of your industry. Long-term, this helps everyone concerned."

Smith adds that to get a client to change it might just be making them aware of the issue. "I ask producers, how many of you have seen processing crews putting an injection below the withers? Anything you can do to give the right advice to those people, will be helpful to the beef industry."

The objective is to make producers aware of the problem and ask for their help to educate others.

A closer look

Smith says that in a collaborative study with CSU with the help of the pharmaceutical industry, Academy of Veterinary Consultants and American Association of Bovine Practitioners, they wanted to find out if there were products used that might not cause injection-site problems. So, the study looked at seven diffeent compounds to create the lesions. "We found out that even injections with sterile water were causing the problems. It was the wound that was causing the problem more than the adjuvant or whatever was in the medicine. It was much worse with certain adjuvants, than it was with others, but the toughness problem persisted irrespective of what we gave them."

Smith says that agriculture has clearly documented that the injection site lesion stretches far beyond the initial site of the injection.

In some cases, lesions were detected four steaks above and four steaks below the initial penetration site. "It is an enormous loss to the industry," Smith adds.