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New Challenges on the Safety of U.S. Meat: Oprah Right for Other Reasons, Says Professor of Environmental Medicine at University of Illinois School of Public Health

CHICAGO, Feb. 2 /PRNewswire/ — The following was released today by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School at Chicago of Public Health:

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in favor of the 1989 European ban on the use of sex hormones for growth promotion of cattle in feedlots prior to slaughter. While subject to further assessment before it can be made permanent, this ruling is a major victory for European consumers. It is also a major defeat for the United States and Canada which challenged the European ban claiming that it was "protectionist," costing over $100 million a year in lost exports, and that it reflected "consumerism versus science." The WTO ruling also raises serious concerns on the safety of U.S. meat, recently questioned on different grounds by Oprah Winfrey, based on the following considerations:

  • Confidential industry reports to the FDA, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal high residues of natural and synthetic sex hormones in meat products even under ideal test conditions. This is contrary to repeated and explicit assurances by the FDA and USDA.
  • Following legal implantation in the ear of steers of Synovex-S, acombination of estradiol and progesterone, estradiol levels in meat products ranged up to 20-fold in excess of the normal. Based on conservative estimates, the amount of estradiol in two hamburgers eaten by an 8-year-old boy could increase his hormone levels by 10%.
  • Much higher hormone residues are found in meat products followingillegal implantation in cattle muscle which is commonplace in U.S. feedlots. The WTO ruled that such abuse alone would justify the European ban.
  • Contrary to repeated and explicit assurances by the FDA and USDA, none of the approximately 130 million U.S. livestock slaughtered annually are tested for residues of cancer-causing and gene-damaging estradiol or any related sex hormones. This misrepresentation has been confirmed by European Commission inspectors, in a November 1997 survey of U.S.control programs, who reported that there was no monitoring for residues of sex hormones nor for illegal animal drugs, including antibiotics, and that U.S. residue monitoring was totally inadequate to meet European standards.
  • Repeated assurances on the safety of hormonal meat by two World Health Organization bodies, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (FAO/CODEX), reflect minimal expertise in public health, high representation of senior FDA and USDA officials and industry consultants, reliance on unpublished industry and outdated scientific information, and conflicts of interest. Paradoxically, the same Codex Commission which approved hormonal meat, explicitly warned over a decade ago that baby meat foods "shall be free from residues of hormones."
  • The endocrine-disruptive effects of estrogenic pesticides and other industrial food contaminants, known as xenoestrogens, are now under intensive investigation by U.S. regulatory and health agencies. But contamination of meat with residues of the thousands-fold more potent estradiol remains ignored.
  • Lifelong exposure to high residues of natural and synthetic sex hormones in meat products poses serious risks of breast and other reproductive cancers, whose incidence in the U.S. has sharply escalated since 1950 -- 55% for breast cancer, 120% for testicular cancer, and 230% for prostate cancer. Those residues have also been incriminated in increasing trends of precocious sexual development.

Commenting on these facts, Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago, School of Public Health, stated: "The European ban on hormonal meat should serve as a long- overdue wake-up call for U.S. consumers to demand an immediate ban on hormone use or, minimally, the explicit labeling of hormonal meat products. It should also lead to a congressional investigation of the FDA and USDA for gross regulatory abdication besides suppression of information vital to consumer health. The dangers of U.S. hormonal meat can no longer be ignored."

Contact: Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health and Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, Chicago, 312-996-2297

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