Hormones and Antibiotics in Food

The European Union (EU) banned the use of synthetic hormones in meat and meat products in 1988. The EU is presently carrying out an additional risk assessment of the safety of hormones in meat and its effect on humans.

The FDA in the United States continues to reassure consumers that hormones are safe in meats because of the tiny amount that is used in animals and only a small fraction is transmitted to the humans who consume meat. These hormones, anabolic steroids, are used in the United States and other countries (like Australia and Canada) to make cattle larger and leaner.

The hormones are administered to the animal by a small implant under the skin, so only a tiny amount is released. In April 1999 the EU banned beef imports from the United States starting on June 15, 1999. The EU’s commission stated, “This action has been taken to protect consumer health in the EU.”

In addition, dairy cattle are injected with a genetically engineered growth hormone, called bovine somatotropin (BST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), to increase the production of milk by the cow. In a press release in March 1999, the Chairman of The Cancer Prevention Coalition, Dr. Samuel S. Epstein, shared concerns about rBGH and has called on the FDA to immediately ban milk from cows injected with this hormone.

Scientific studies from the EU have shown elevated levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in milk from these cows. Epidemiologic studies indicate a link between excess levels of IGF-1 and breast and prostate cancer. He also shared concerns about the antibiotic use that is necessary in these cows because of the high rate of mastitis (breast infections) in these cows.

The use of antibiotics in our meats is a concern. Some 60 to 80 percent of all cattle, sheep, and poultry in the United States will receive antibiotics at some point. Researchers are trying to determine if and how much of a role this widespread antibiotic use may have in creating antibiotic resistance of bacteria in humans.

A report from the National Academy of Sciences stated, “Bacteria that resist antibiotics can be passed from food animals to humans, but not enough is known to determine the public health risks posed by such transmission.” As consumers, we need to make our choices, but concerns are appearing about the safety of meat and meat products. We need to make informed decisions about these choices. We know that people who maintain vegetarian diets are healthier with lower risks of heart disease and cancer.

We know that fruits and vegetables are loaded with protective antioxidants to fight disease. Could there also be a link between excess exposure to toxins in our meats and meat products that also contribute to an increase in disease processes in meat eaters?

As with many things, we need more information and research, but are we putting our children at risk with a heavy meat diet? This is a decision every family and person must struggle with, but it seems that moderation is important when it comes to meat.

Organic milk and other dairy products are more available now. Organic milk is found in many large-chain supermarkets. The US Department of Agriculture recently ruled that meat and poultry may seek organic certification. To fulfill organic requirements, these meats will have no antibiotics or growth hormones and the animals will be fed 100 percent organic feed.