HORMONES IN MEAT
Are consumers at risk when eating meat from animals that have been treated with growth-promoting hormones? Are women in particular at a higher risk from ingestion of hormone-laden meat?
Scientists are also concerned about the environmental impacts of hormone residues that are found in cow manure…
- in the United States, every year approximately 36 million cattle are raised to provide beef for US consumers; 2/3 of these cattle (about 24 million cows) are given hormones to help make them grow faster.; (1)
- steroid hormones, in fact, enhance the animals' production of muscle - that is, meat. Some cows get steroids in their feed; others receive one or more hormones via a controlled-release implant in their ears. Economically, these hormones offer a bonanza. It costs farmers about US$1 to 3 per head to treat their livestock with either procedure. Treatment increases animals' growth by 20%, so each cow in a feedlot typically gains 3 pounds (about Kg1.36) per day. Moreover, for each pound that it gains, it consumes 15% less feed than an untreated animal does. This feed efficiency works out to a cost savings of about US$40 per head;
- according to the Cattlemen's Beef Association, 90% of all US feedlot cattle are hormone implanted;
- according to expert scientists appointed by the European Union, the use of growth hormones in food animals poses a potential risk to consumers' health. The scientists reported that hormone residues found in meat from these animals can disrupt the consumer's hormone balance, cause developmental problems, interfere with the reproductive system, and even lead to the development of cancer; (2)
- children and pregnant women are most susceptible to these negative health effects. Hormone residues in beef are also thought to cause the early onset of puberty in girls. This puts girls at greater risk of developing breast cancer and other forms of cancer; (3)
- as a result of these health risks, the European Union has banned the use of substances having a hormonal action for growth promotion in farm animals, and has prohibited the import of hormone-treated beef since 1988; (4)
- the US and Canada contested the prohibition and in 1997 a panel of the WTO ruled that the EU measure was not in line with the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS); (5)
- on October 2003, the European Union adopted Directive 2003/74/EC. The directive confirms the prohibition of substances having a hormonal action for growth promotion in farm animals. The latter use of prohibited substances has to be phased out by September 2006. By October 2005 the Commission will present a report on the availability of alternative veterinary medicinal products;
- in April 2004, revelations that up to 90% of US veal calves are being fed synthetic testosterone illegally sent a shock wave through the meat industry, causing a government crackdown and new worries about the impact of hormones on the food supply. In interviews with the media, veal industry officials said that calves have been fed growth hormones for decades. Officials with the Food and Drug Administration, however, say this has never been legal and the safety of this practice has not been tested. (6)
- when manure is excreted, these hormones can contaminate surface and groundwater, thereby harming local ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to the negative impacts of hormone residues; recent studies have demonstrated that exposure to hormones has a substantial effect on the reproductive capacity and egg production of fish;
- a study of cows treated with melengestrol acetate (one of the artificial growth hormones approved for use in the US) revealed that 12% of the hormone passed directly through the cows into their manure.
(1) Raloff, Janet, "Hormones: Here's the Beef: environmental concerns reemerge over steroids given to livestock." Science News. Vol 161; #1, p.10. January 5, 2002.
(2) Duplisea, Bradford, “The Real Dope on Beef Hormones”, Canadian Health Coalition, 2001.
(3) The Globe and Mail, "Breast cancer linked to beef", July 30, 1999.
(4) EU prohibited substances: oestradiol 17, testosterone, progesterone, zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate (MGA).
(5) The EU appealed against this ruling and, in 1998, the WTO Appellate Body reversed most of the findings of the panel.
(6) The hormone is trenbolone acetate, which is legally used to increase growth in adult cattle but is not approved for use in calves.