The simple to that question is well, yes. There are hormones in everything… In you, in me, in animals, even in vegetables. That’s just a fact of life. Are hormones added to the animals before they are killed for meat..? Well the answer to that question is basically yes.. Is there a need to be concerned..? Absolutely not.
First of all, hormone use in livestock production only occurs in beef cattle not pork or chicken. And in fact USDA has outlawed hormone use in both pork & poultry production. There are many reasons for this ranging from the chickens and hogs are much more efficient at converting feed than cattle, to the time required to inject each and every chicken is not worth the end result. Bottom line is: if you’re spending more money on that label with the chicken breast that says “hormone free”, sorry to say it, but you’re wasting your money. Hormone use in cattle is not something new to production. Cattle have been receiving hormone injections for well over 50 years and in fact it is well regulated, monitored carefully, & proven safe. Currently, over 90 percent of the cattle fed in the U.S. receive a hormone implant during growth and this usually occurs as the animal enters the feedlot. The effect of the hormone implant will have worn off well before the animal is shipped to market, basically meaning that the effectiveness of the hormone implant will have terminated well before the animal is slaughtered. Therefore, residues and/or traces of this hormone implant is not an issue.
So why are hormone implants used & how are the given?
Hormone implants are used to give naturally occurring hormones (already found in cattle) a boost. Basically it helps speed up the process at which feed is converted to muscle which helps the animal gain weight more efficiently. Ultimately this translates to: a decreased amount of days on feed, improved carcass yield, and reduces the cost per animal to feed. This not only reduces the environmental impact of beef production but it also reduces the price of meat to you, the customer.
Implants are administered in the form of a pellet into the fleshy part behind an animal’s ear. These implants are only effective for 75 days. This ensures that the hormone is released very slowly and remains at low concentrations within the animal. Most cattle spend anywhere from 90-180 days in a feedlot, therefore, like I said before traces or residue from this implant would be well gone before the animal even makes it to the slaughterhouse. A choice of five different hormones can be administered and used & are legal at very specific doses.
- Oestradiol: a naturally occurring female sex hormone (minor component)
- Progesterone: another naturally occurring female sex hormone (major component)
- Testosterone: the main, naturally occurring, male sex hormone (major component)
- Trenboloneacetate:synthetichormonethat mimics testosterone (major component)
- Zeranol: synthetic hormone that mimics oestradiol (major component)
The implant works by entering into blood circulation, and increases growth hormone secretion from the pituitary gland in the animal. Once the 75 days is up, it disappears from the ear, and nobody would never be able to tell that it was ever there. And for those of you worried about multiple injections or high levels, there is no benefit or effectiveness to using more, only increased costs to ranchers.
So is there a cause for concern?
Not at all. Hormone levels in beef produced using growth hormones are well within range of naturally occurring levels in the animals themselves. It’s not like feedlots are pumping the animals full of hormones well beyond what they would naturally produce. In fact, the amount of hormones found in beef products is INSIGNIFICANT compared with the amount of hormones naturally produced by the human body as well as other foods. Take a look at this chart to compare levels:
To put some of those numbers in context for you, let me share with you these facts:
- To eat enough beef to receive the same amount of estrogen as ONE birth control pill, a woman would have to consume 18,421 three ounce servings of beef PER DAY
- One pound of beef from cattle implanted with a growth hormone contains 15,000 times less than the amount of estrogen produced DAILY by the average male & nine million times les than the amount of estrogen produced by a pregnant female
- One 8-oz serving of cabbage contains over 1,000 times more estrogen than the same serving size of steak from beef with a hormone implant
Hormone Injections in Beef Cattle help the industry remain sustainable…?
Through the use of hormone injections in beef cattle, it means that more beef can be produced with less cattle and less land. Using a growth hormone in beef production allows the industry to:
- reduce the land required to produce a pound of beef by 67 percent
- reduce greenhouse grass emissions by 40 percent
- allows producers to provide more beef using less feed & at a lower cost
I know hormones have been a topic of concern in the news media for quite some time and I’ve seen it wildly debated on some social media threads. It’s nothing new that some people are extremely concerned about this and even more so, feeding this meat to their children. It is my hope that this post took some of the “mystery” out of hormones in meat and that you can rest assured next time you serve your family beef! For some further reading material on this subject, please visit these websites:
Side note: Some people are blaming agriculture as the reason why children are maturing more quickly. But studies have shown that this may be a result of childhood obesity, not in fact added hormones to our food production system. If you’re really interested in reading up more on how childhood obesity, check out these studies:
- Are feedlot cattle fed antibiotics and hormones? (beefcattle101.wordpress.com)