A Far North Queensland grazier says three years after changing his cattle feed supplement, he is still seeking answers to how it ended up with toxic levels of an ingredient, monensin, which he blames for the death of 400 head of breeder cattle.
- John Foote says he lost hundreds of cattle in 2018 after changing cattle licks
- He says the analysis of product showed a toxic quantity of the ingredient monensin
Supplier Ridley strongly rejected allegation, says its testing disproved the claims
The series of events happened at at time when the John Foote was expanding and consolidating his cattle breeding and fattening operation.
After 20 years of toil in the cattle and plumbing game, prices were jumping, and it finally seemed he was getting ahead.
But within a year, that all changed. His cattle suddenly became sick and were dying, and calving rates in his herd dropped from a good average of 70 per cent to only 30.
“They were as poor as crows,” Mr Foote said.
Mr Foote put it down to the lick ration or animal nutrition supplement. He had just switched manufacturer and was adding an ingredient, rumensin, also known as monensin, commonly used around the world to improve growth and feed efficiency in beef and dairy cattle.
When an independent analysis showed monensin at up to 1740mg a kilogram — four times the recommended safe dosage — he felt the manufacturer, Ridley, had a clear case to answer.
Forced to sell part of land
He said was it depressing watching the quality of the cattle go back the way they did.
“They reckoned the tests we did were inconsistent, but we had photos of lick being poured into troughs, and the only thing inconsistent was what we were tipping out.
“It pretty much knocked the guts clean out of us,” Mr Foote said.
“Here we were pouring lick down their necks, and it was doing the wrong thing.”
Overall, Mr Foote estimated he lost 400 breeders and as many calves and weaners as a result of the poor condition of their mothers over a 12–18-month period.
The forced sale of the family’s recently acquired coastal fattening block was the only thing that saved him from financial ruin.
Ridley refutes claims
Ridley strenuously refuted claims its product was responsible for cattle deaths on Mr Foote’s property by way of monensin toxicity.
Ridley said Mr Foote’s claims were fully, thoroughly and immediately investigated in 2018; and that its own subsequent analysis showed monensin in all samples taken from the property were within the specified tolerance levels.
“Ridley recognises the impact the cattle deaths have had on Mr Foote’s business and at the time, repeatedly requested he engage a vet to determine the cause of these deaths, including identifying other potential contributing factors.”
Mr Foote said a Ridley representative who visited the property told him repeatedly there was nothing wrong with the lick and instead blamed dry conditions, poor pastures and a poisonous woody shrub known as heart-leaf.
‘Lick wasn’t the right brew’
“It still comes back to the analysis.
“The manufacturers of Rumensin tell you the maximum intake is 300mg, that stuff was 1,700.”
Mr Foote said neither the manufacturer, supplier, nor Stockfeed Manufacturers’ Council of Australia would agree to do another test of the product still stored under plastic in his shed, despite rejecting his own independent analysis.
“With our circumstances, 12 months ago, it would’ve been really good to sort it out and get some form of compensation, so we didn’t have to sell our other place, but now, we’re sort of back on top of things, and we’ve moving on.
“You’d like to think it’s not going to happen to anyone else,” he said.
‘Within tolerance levels’
Ridley declined to be interviewed but, in a statement said samples of the unused products collected from the Foote property were analysed by an accredited independent laboratory and the levels of monensin in all samples tested were found to be within the specified tolerance levels.
The ABC has asked Ridley for the results of its own analysis, but the company refused.
The Stockfeed Manufacturers’ Council of Australia also declined to be interviewed.