Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & Your Health (Part 3 of 3)

My deepest apologies for the hiatus. It has been a busy weekend filled with birthday festivities and hosting visitors from out of town. Thus, I fell behind on my blog. So I’m back this week refreshed and ready to attack the week with vigor and a new laptop!
Last week, we talked about meat and your health examining the use of antibiotics in livestock and hormones in dairy cows. I would like to speak today about the use of hormones in cattle.
It is estimated that about two-thirds of cattle in the US are injected with growth hormones. The purpose of growth hormones is quite self explanatory. By injecting hormones into cattle, they grow a lot quicker which brings the cattle to slaughter sooner, lowering costs, and increasing profits for the cattle industry. Today, there are six steroids being fed or injected into cows in the US and Canada today. The use of hormones in cattle is extremely controversial, as it is in dairy cows. Intuitively, if hormones make cattle grow, it will make humans grow. Breaking it down, if it makes cattle cells grow, it will make human cells grow, and this includes cancer cells. There are no concrete studies to prove the safety or dangers of hormone use but the human hormonal system is extremely sensitive and an imbalance can cause many issues. Hormone use in cattle has been linked to early puberty, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Did you know that hormone use is prohibited in the raising of chickens and pigs in the US? In the 1930’s, DES, a synthetic hormone, was founded in the US and used in chickens. By the 1950’s the FDA saw that the hormone was building up in the tissues of men who were eating hormone injected chicken and changing the men’s hormonal activity. It caused un-descended testicles, higher pitch voices, abnormal breast enlargement, small genitalia size, impotence, infertility and increased risk for testicular cancer. Yowzers! So for obviously reasons, the use of hormones was discontinued in chicken in the 1950s. However, as the FDA was discontinuing the use of DES in chickens, they approved the use of DES in cattle. Since the 1950s, DES has been linked to more health issues and since discontinued in its use for cattle. Now, there are six approved hormones that US and Canadian cattle ranchers use.
The use of hormones in cattle is only approved for use in a handful of countries including the US and Canada. Other nations have found similar health issues to consumers of hormone injected beef as were found with those who ate hormone injected chickens. The use of hormones on beef cattle has been banned in the European Union since the 80’s. A study done in Europe found that meat from injected cattle could impact the hormonal balance of humans and cause issues in the reproductive system or cause breast, prostate or colon cancer. Furthermore, Europe banned US beef imports in 1989.
After all of this controversy, why hasn’t there been a study done to show the safety in eating meat injected or fed hormones? Well A) because it is hard to do such a study-it would require lots of time and monetary investments and B) because the cattle industry is very powerful and any indication that a study of this sort was going to be done would be squashed-and probably has been.
The cattle industry may be large, but it is not that formidable. And you are not without choices. You can cast your opinion every time you buy food-whether it be raw or prepared. Instead of beef, try to pick up an alternative like free range bison or turkey. Or better yet, get your protein from beans. Remember, you are feeding your whole self when you eat, not just your stomach.

Sources & Resources:
DES Timeline: http://www.douglasandlondon.com/docs/DES-Timeline.pdf
EU Ban details: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/pn127.pdf


  1. Hi Lisa,

    I find this reeeally interesting. I've been lately thinking about switching to a vegetarian diet or at least cutting out beef, a difficult prospect for me since I love my burgers and steaks. But anything in the food we eat has the potential to really get into our cells and organs, which is scary. And not just hormones but heavy metals and other pollutants that might be floating around (like you might find in some fish). From an environmental perspective, I've been thinking of eliminating beef from my diet because the agricultrual runoff from cattle farms is causing a heap of problems in esutaries such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Mississippi River delta (dead zones and algal blooms and all kinds of not-so-good things). Some of our practices as a country are really not sustainable, and it's interesting to watch the reasons pile up.

  2. Hi Jackie, it's totally true that everything we eat gets into our system. It's great that you are aware of this! If you don't want to cut out steaks and burgers completely, you can look for grass fed and pastured beef that has been humanely raised and more nutritious!