At Alderspring Ranch, we use no hormones in growing our cattle. Nearly all beef consumed in the United States comes from animals that have been administered synthetic hormones by inserting a slow-release pellet into the ear. The implants are designed to run out of hormone before slaughter.
An assessment of the risks of hormones in beef is clouded by economics and politics. The economics are nearly irresistable for ranchers and feedlot operators. Implants can increase feed efficiency up to 10%, increase gain up to 20% in growing cattle, and 12% in finishing cattle. This translates into 100-200% return on the implant cost.
The politics involve a “trade war” with the European Union, which refuses to import American beef because of possible risks from hormones. Although the World Trade Organization has sided with the US, the EU remains steadfast that they will not import our beef. Even supposedly hormone free beef is banned because tests of imported American “hormone free” beef showed traces of elevated hormone levels from implants (a clear failure of the industrial beef industry to truly guarantee a product given the complexity of coordinating producers, feedlot operators, and packers).
Is the use of hormone implants safe for humans consuming the meat? Hormone levels are detectably higher in implanted beef. But is this increase significant for human health? The unfortunate answer is that we don’t know. Experts can be found on both sides of the issue. We’ve never used implants, even when selling cattle on the commercial market. Our reasons were hard to articulate—it just didn’t seem “right” to do that to the animals. Despite safety assurances from implant manufacturers, anecdotal stories from other operators describing unusual udder development and reproductive problems with heifers convinced us against the use of hormones.
“It is “very likely” that hormone residues in North American beef is a factor in the early onset of puberty among girls in recent decades, said Carlos Sonnenschein of the Tufts University School of Medicine at Boston.” –The Canadian Press. Story on-line at Organic Consumers Association
Here is an excerpt from the Why Files at University of Wisconsin (1999).
Is it safe???
The Why Files sifted the scientific literature for evidence that it’s dangerous to eat meat treated with hormones and came up empty-handed. There’s been little study of the issue during the past 20 years because scientists think there’s nothing to investigate, or have no money to do it. There was no sign of a long-term study of human-health effects — admittedly an expensive, complicated undertaking.
A search of Toxline, a major database on chemical toxicity, showed that most of the health studies, performed more than 20 years ago, reported no health hazards. A similar search of Medline, the major medical database, revealed two articles. We couldn’t track down the one in the 1995 Belgian Journal of Pharmacy. The other, by W. Arneth in the Zeitschrift fur die Gesamte Innere Medizin und Ihre Grenzgebiete (Feb. 1992), included this material in its English-language abstract:
“Application of hormones does not result in any significant alteration in the hormonal levels in vivo. The quantity of hormones which may be ingested through meat is comparatively very small to the levels synthesized in the body of human beings, even in children. Additionally, these substances when introduced orally have no significant physiological activity… The prohibition of these hormones seems to be more for political and economical reasons than for their harmful side effects for the consumer.”
Margaret Mellon, a food and biotechnology expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists who has taken the lead in warning of the health effects of irradiation and genetic engineering of food, did not know of any U.S. scientists studying the issue. She observes that part of the cause may be funding shortages: The beef industry has no incentive to perform tests unless required by regulators, and regulators have expressed little concern about hormones once they have passed FDA pre-marketing tests.