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American Beef: Why is it Banned in Europe?


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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 in meat.

Q. During the seven years after the EEC ban on hormone-raised meat, the U.S. beef industry has continued to use sex hormones in meat. Why?

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 profits.

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 this problem?

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

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