Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Is beef fed growth hormones safe to eat? Likely not.

Did you know Canadian beef cattle are fed growth hormones? Six growth hormones approved by Health Canada are used by the beef industry to help beef cattle grow bigger faster. Administering hormones (three natural and three synthetic) allows the beef industry to raise beef more cheaply and helps to keep beef prices low for consumers.

But is cheap beef worth it?

According to Brad Duplisea, a researcher with the Canadian Health Coalition, cheap beef has hidden costs. “Beef hormones are used by industry to increase weight gain in cattle. The use of such powerful hormones for non-therapeutic, non-essential purposes is irresponsible and offers no benefits to the consumer or society, only risk. Public health should come before beef industry profits.”

The beef industry and Health Canada say there is no evidence that the hormone residue in beef is harmful to humans. Just so you know there exists no government data to prove that Canadian beef fed hormones is not harmful, either. The research has never been done.

A number of scientists have raised red flags, concerned that even small amounts of residual hormones can mix up our bodies’ hormone balance and could be especially harmful to prepubescent children and pregnant women.

Some scientists blame hormone residues in food on the early onset of puberty that is becoming more common and there is research demonstrating that a disruption of the body’s hormone balance can lead to disease. (Girls who reach puberty early have a higher risk of developing breast cancer.)  

The big concern is that nobody knows what a safe threshold for hormone residue might be and there is no data on which Health Canada can base its approval of these natural and synthetic hormones. Should people limit beef and beef product consumption to one serving a day? One per week? Should pregnant women and children eat beef no more than twice per month? Who knows?  

There are environmental impacts to these hormone supplements as well. Hormone residue in cow manure, especially from huge factory farms, is making its way into waterways, disrupting ecosystems and causing irregularities in fish eggs.  

Not all beef farmers use growth hormones:

Certified organic beef is hormone-free and small, local producers are less likely to supplement their grass fed beef with hormones. If you buy your beef at local markets instead of the grocery store you’ll be able to learn more about how the cattle was raised. There are also many local options to buy beef directly from farmers.  

Late last month A&W restaurant announced that its burgers now contain only hormone-free beef so there is a light on the fast food horizon as well. In the meantime, the European Union continues to disallow Canadian beef imports because they don’t believe that beef fed hormones is safe for human consumption.  

As a society we need to learn that low quality cheap food has hidden costs: you can either pay the farmer (in the way of higher prices for better raised beef) or pay the doctor (in the form of higher health care costs.


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