Drug reduces ammonia in cattle waste

Published on December 31, 2018
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A drug added to cattle feed lessens ammonia gas from the animals and their waste.

Hind end of several beef cattleThe Food and Drug Administration and Elanco Animal Health Inc. published separate announcements that say the drug, Experior, can reduce water and air contamination, protecting people and wildlife. It's the first drug approved in the U.S. to reduce gas emissions from livestock, the FDA announcement states.

"Ammonia gas emissions are a concern because they have been implicated in atmospheric haze and noxious odors," the FDA's announcement states. "High concentrations of ammonia can cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat in both humans and animals."

Ammonia contamination also can cause algae blooms that block sunlight to aquatic plants and starve aquatic animals of oxygen, the announcement states.

Dr. Matt Lucia, director of the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation in the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in an interview the lubabegron (Experior) approval illustrates that the CVM can approve drugs for environmental benefits, and the agency wants potential drug sponsors to know about it. Agency officials have had conversations with potential drug sponsors about such indications, he said.

Elanco's announcement describes the drug as a pioneering effort to reduce the environmental impact of farming.

"We recognize the impact animal health has on the health of people and the planet," the announcement states.

The drug has only indirect benefits for cattle receiving it.

"The evidence that was gathered in studies did not demonstrate any health benefit or performance advantage in beef cattle, such as weight gain or feed efficiency, as a result of receiving Experior, although no negative effects were noted," the announcement states.

The FDA has approved many drugs for production uses, Dr. Lucia said. He cited examples of drugs administered for increased weight gain in cattle, immunologic castration of male pigs, and synchronized estrus in cows.

Lubabegron is a type A beta-adrenoceptor agonist-antagonist, available over the counter. Farmers can administer it in feed to beef steers and heifers for a minimum of 14 days and maximum of 91.

In a study with 336 cattle, researchers showed cattle fed the drug produced 14 to 18 percent less ammonia gas, according to FDA descriptions of the research supporting drug approval. Research on the drug also indicated steaks from treated cattle were less tender, but the change was slight enough that people were unlikely to notice.

Dr. Lucia said the researchers who studied lubabegron's effectiveness designed innovative studies, using individual chambers and temporary group structures for cattle, to test whether the drug reduced ammonia release.

"This approval required some pretty in-depth conversations between CVM and the sponsor to come to a product development pathway," he said. "And it's (a) pretty innovative and ingenious, in my opinion, product development pathway."