Concerns surrounding hormone-implanted beef not scientifically supported
Posted: March 15th, 2011 - 12:01pm
Source: Feedstuffs Food Link
Can hormone-implanted beef really cause all sorts of detrimental effects in people like colon and breast cancer? This is the question many consumers have today in the face of an onslaught of accusations against conventional beef production. However, the so-called studies and anecdotal accounts have trouble holding water when confronted by the cold, hard numbers on hormone levels in beef from implanted cattle. Beef from hormone-implanted cattle is just as safe to eat as beef from cattle that aren't implanted, but it has the added advantage of saving more of our natural resources.
There are many implants available on the market today for cattle. All these implants have been approved after rigorous testing by the FDA. These implants are the same or chemically similar to the natural hormones produced in the animal. They are placed under the skin on the back of the ear.
Implants work by increasing the amount of hormones the animal naturally produces to regulate growth, making the animal's body more efficient at utilizing nutrients to lay down bone, muscle and fat. This leads to the animal being 5 to 10 percent better at using consumed feed and gaining 5 to 15 percent more body weight daily compared to an animal that was not implanted.
Androgenic (compounds similar to testosterone) implants will have an additional 2 to 3 percent feed efficiency and 3 to 5 percent higher daily gains over the aforementioned values.
The benefits of these gains are tremendous in both economic and environmental terms. A cattle producer can use less feed for every pound of beef raised, helping that producer meet the bottom line. Environmentally, fewer natural resources are used to produce a greater amount of beef, thereby saving those resources for other uses.
The implications of increased beef production are even more profound for world protein production. According to Weiert Velle in an article from the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives, the ability to produce more edible protein for every unit of energy used is of great importance in a world lacking in protein supplies. According to the FAO, world meat consumption will rise from 233 million tons to 300 million tons by 2020.
The most important question with any supplement to a meat animal is safety and residues. The implants used today have a stunning track record in both categories. Research through multiple agencies has not linked consumption of higher-than-normal hormone residues in meat with any negative effect on human health. This includes false assumption that hormone residues in meat cause the early onset of puberty in girls.
This is because the difference in hormones in implanted beef is minuscule. Data provided by Meat and Livestock Australia shows that a 100 gram portion of beef implanted with an estrogen hormone will have 2 nanograms of oestrogen in it, while a nonimplanted portion of beef will have 1.4 nanograms of oestrogen in it.
What makes this even less of an issue is by comparing the levels of hormones in implanted beef versus other food's natural levels of estrogens. There is 77 times more estrogen in one egg than there is in a portion of implanted beef. Cabbage is even more pronounced, having 200 times more estrogen than beef from an implanted steer. If food was causing human health effects due to its hormone content, wouldn't cabbage cause a far greater effect than beef?
On top of this, the FDA has a limit on allowable hormone levels in beef that have been implanted.
Their limit for estrogen is 21 billionths of a gram. On average, American beef has 0.3 billionths of a gram of estrogens in it, making it 70 times lower than the limit. According to the 2005 report by the USDA, the total number of hormone residue violations was zero. With the mountain of data supporting the safety of hormone use, it is apparent why the FDA, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (the FAO/WHO Food Standards Commission) all agree that implanted beef is safe to eat.
In spite of all the scientific evidence, the European Union has banned implants. The World Trade Organization ruled in 1998 that the EU ban was unsupported with science and in violation of WTO standards.
In short, hormone implants are a win-win-win for the cattle producer, the world's protein supply and the environment. They are absolutely safe and effective. And honestly, if beef from implanted cattle really had massive amounts of hormones in it, wouldn't body builders be eating it by the bucket-load instead of using steroids?
Jake Geis is a second-year veterinary student at the University of Nebraska.