HORMONES IN MEAT
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Most U. S. beef cattle
are implanted with synthetic hormones in feedlots prior to slaughter.
On January 1, 1989 the European Economic Community (EEC)
placed a ban on hormone-treated U. S. meat, preventing U. S. meat
products from being sold in any European nations. The United States
Department of Agriculture (USDA) has challenged the ban and accused
the EEC of unfair trade practices, but the action of European governments
raises some important questions about American meat.
Q. Why did the Europeans (EEC) place a ban on hormone-raised meat?
A. The European Economic Community banned hormone-raised meat
because of questions on the dangers of meat that has been treated
with synthetic sex hormones. European consumers pressured the EEC
to take this action to protect their health.
More than a decade ago, Roy Hertz, then director of endocrinology
at the National Cancer Institute and a leading authority on hormonal
cancers, warned of the carcinogenic risks of estrogenic additives
which can cause imbalances and increases in natural hormone levels.
Hertz warned against the uncontrolled use of these potent carcinogens.
No dietary levels of hormones are safe and a dime-sized piece of
meat contains-billions of millions of molecules.
Breast cancer has been raised as a primary concern in light of
associations between breast cancer and oral contraceptives, whose
estrogen dosage is known and controlled. The risk of breast and
other cancers only increases with the uncontrolled use of hormones
Q. During the seven years after the EEC ban on hormone-raised
meat, the U.S. beef industry has continued to use sex hormones
A. Hormones can be used to stimulate growth in cattle. Because
farmers are paid based on the weight of the animals they sell for
slaughter, the use of hormones has been seen as a way to boost
Q. Which hormones are used on feedlots?
A. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was one of the first hormones used
to fatten feedlots. It was banned in 1979 after forty years of
evidence that DES was cancer-causing. In its place, sex hormones,
such as estradiol and progestins (synthetic forms of the naturally
occurring hormone progesterone) have been implanted to virtually
all feedlot cattle. The least hazardous way to administer hormones
to animals is through an implant near the animals ear. Unfortunately,
many farmers inject hormones directly into the muscle tissue that
will be later used to make meat products. The only USDA-imposed
requirement is that residue levels in meat must be less than one
percent of the daily hormone production of children. This requirement
is unenforceable because there is no USDA testing for hormone residues
in meat. Furthermore, hormonal residues are not practically differentiable
from natural hormones created by the cow's body. As a result, the
use of hormones to boost meat production is completely unregulated.
Q. What kind of policies should be in place in the U.S. to address
A. Hormonal and other carcinogenic additives (pesticides from
food fed to animals, some antibiotics, etc.) should be banned immediately,
as should be all additives that are not proven effective and safe.
Additive use and residue levels in animal products, including milk
and eggs, should be subject to explicit labeling requirements.
Until then, state initiatives that establish hormone-free certification
for European shipments, should be applauded and extended domestically.
Q. What can consumers do to protect themselves?
A. Consumers can boycott chemical treated meat in favor of organic
meat and insist on the fight to know which additives have been
used and what residues might exist. Consumers should speak with
their butchers or grocers about hormone-free meat product availability.
The European Ban on
U. S. Meat: Press Conference
World Trade Organization
Bans U. S. Meat. WHY?
None of Us Should
Eat Extra Estrogen, Los Angeles Times
U.S. Policy Ignores
Dangers of Meat Hormones, Editorial
Europe’s Worries About U.S. Meat., Los Angeles Times Editorial
Europe’s Ban on U. S. Beef, Press Release
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
2121 W. Taylor Street, M/C 922
Chicago, IL 60612