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CHICAGO, IL, November 7, 2005 --/WORLD-WIRE/--
Threats by Consumers Union of Japan to boycott U.S. beef because of risks of mad cow disease (BSE) are well based. While Japan routinely tests all the 1.3 million beef carcasses it processes annually, the U.S. tests only about 1 in 2,000 cattle, largely restricted to cattle over 30 months old with BSE symptoms. Of additional concern, the U.S. still has no tracking system which would allow tracing infected cattle back to their herds.

Reinforcing and extending the basis for the threatened boycott is the fact that U.S. beef is heavily contaminated with sex hormones. When U.S. beef cattle enter feedlots, sex hormone pellets are implanted under the ear skin, a process that is repeated at the midpoint of their 100-day pre-slaughter fattening period. These hormones increase the weight of the cattle, adding to profits by about $80 per animal.

The hormones in past and current use include the natural - estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone - and the synthetic - zeranol, trenbolone, and melengesterol. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have maintained and still maintain that residues of these hormones in meat are within "normal levels," and have waived any requirements for residue testing.

Europe, however, has rightly viewed U.S. claims with considerable skepticism, and since 1989 the European Union has banned the sale of beef from hormone-treated cattle. The U.S., and also Canada, have challenged that the European ban is protectionist, and is costing North America $100 million annually in lost exports.

However, confidential industry reports to the FDA, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, have revealed high hormone residues in meat products. Following a single ear implant in steers of Synovex-S, a combination of estradiol and progesterone, residues of these hormones in meat were found to be up to 20-fold higher than normal. The amount of estradiol in two hamburgers eaten in one day by an 8-year-old boy could increase his total hormone levels by as much as 10%, particularly as young children have very low natural hormone levels.

Increased levels of sex hormones are linked ever more closely to the escalating increase of reproductive cancers in the U.S., 37% for post-menopausal breast cancer, 46% for testicular cancer, and 88% for prostate cancer, since 1975. The endocrine disruptive effects of estrogenic pesticides and phthalate contaminants in food, besides phthalate and paraben ingredients in cosmetics and toiletries, are now well recognized. However, the contamination of meat with residues of the much more highly potent estradiol, zeranol, and other sex hormones remains virtually unrecognized.

These concerns have been strongly reinforced by recent evidence, from researchers at Ohio State University, that meat and blood from cattle implanted with zeranol have powerful hormonal effects, which resist cooking. This is evidenced by strong stimulatory effects on normal and cancerous human breast cells in laboratory tests.

It is well recognized that American women have about a five-fold greater risk of breast cancer than Japanese. However, as recently confirmed by studies of cancer rates in Los Angeles County, the most highly populated and ethnically diverse county in the U.S., the low risk in Japanese women increases sharply in immigrants to the U.S. after one to two generations. This, and a wide range of other studies in migrant populations, is strongly supportive of avoidable, dietary, and possibly other "Westernized" lifestyle, causes of breast cancer.

Based on these considerations, Japanese consumer groups should consider extending their concerns on the dangers of U.S. beef from BSE to hormonal contaminants.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health
Chicago, Illinois U.S.A.
Tel. (312) 996-2297

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