Benefits versus risks – Use of growth hormones on animals to make them produce more products
Due to new science and technology that has revolutionized the way people think about food and how it impacts them people are being more aware of what goes on in the food industry. Consumers have begun to boycott the use of pesticides on products from farms by only purchasing goods that are organic because of the correlation that has been found between certain health problems and digesting food that has been treated with pesticides. Similarly people are becoming more aware of other possible health hazards such as the use of growth hormones on cattle. In 2005 Americans consumed 63 pounds of beef per capita (Green Living Tips). Due to the large demand of beef cattle farmers have resorted to using growth hormones in order to increase their production and lower their costs. The quick and efficient turnaround is the main reason that producers choose to use hormones to increase growth rather than use natural means. Although growth hormones do provide a much quicker and cheaper method of producing cattle they also have some worrisome side effects.
Consumers of beef are becoming more aware and wary of certain negative side effects of growth hormones. Three of the major concerns expressed by consumers about the use of growth hormones on cattle are the effect of the hormone residues on the consumer, the effect of the hormone runoff on the environment and the the immorality and unethical treatment of cattle that are given growth hormones. Most consumers who are aware of the effects of growth hormone residue are beginning to protest the use of hormones in cattle. In 1988 the European Union banned the use of hormones on cattle as well as prohibiting the importation of beef from the United States due to scientific concern (Artificial Hormones ). Even though consumers are becoming more vocal and speaking out against the use of growth hormones on cattle the United States and Canada continue to allow producers to use growth hormones on cattle (Artificial Hormones).
The use of growth hormones in animals is an early practice, dating back to 1937. Researchers discovered that administration of a protein hormone called bovine somatotropin in lactating cows caused the death of mammary cells to be prevented (Crooker, BA; et all). This of course allowed the female cow to produce milk longer. Later, researchers discovered and implemented six different hormones into cattle, namely estradiol, progesterone, testosterone melengesterol acetate, trenbolone acetate, and zeranol. The outbreak of mad-cow disease in the early 1990’s caused widespread panic, prompting the European Union to ban the use of these hormones with the impression they weakened the cows’ immune systems.
Roughly seven years later, this ban was appealed, and these hormones were once again introduced into livestock. Thus, the controversy began, primarily between those siding with the European Union’s initial decision that the use of artificial hormones in animals causes weakened immune systems (and causing a threat to human life) versus those who believe the outbreak had no correlation (and still has no correlation) with the use of hormones (William A. Kerr and Jill E. Hobbs). Other environmental, ethical, and societal debates exist as well, including possible animal abuse and the potential negative effects on the consumer of hormone-induced meat.
A study indicated that nearly 85% of all U.S citizens demanded there be mandatory indication on meat labels informing the consumer of the existence of absence of growth hormones (William A. Kerr and Jill E. Hobbs). The widespread controversy lead to meat companies indicating the use or disuse of hormones on packaged meat. Today, there exists an increased rate of consumption of organic meats, those not induced with any form of growth hormones. Researchers believe this may become a new marketing ploy in the future, since there is an ever-increasing rate of disapproval of hormone-induced meat products.
Hormones Beneficial Uses
The Beef Industry has been using Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved hormones since the 1950’s. These hormones are natural estrogen (estradiol), progesterone, and testosterone (Canadian Animal Health Institute). There is also an approved synthetic version of each of these hormones. Zeranol is the synthetic equivalent to estrogen, Melengestrol Acetate matches progesterone, and Trenbolone Acetate is the synthetic version of testosterone (Meat Safety). This group of hormones, the synthetic and the natural versions, are commonly referred as growth promotants (Canadian Animal Health Institute). There are three main effects from the use of these enhancing hormones in cattle: the animal’s growth rate is increased, the efficiency by which they convert the feed they eat into meat is increased, and the leanness of the meat is improved. These hormones were approved by the FDA after extensive studies. The studies concluded that the meat produced in this manner is safe for public consumption and the treatments did no harm to the animals involved or their environment. The general method of application formulates the hormones into slowly dissolving pellets that are applied below the skin. Since the pellets dissolve completely, there is no need for removal (Canadian Animal Health Institute).
One of the effects of hormones used on cattle is quicker maturity. The implanted cattle matures at a faster rate, allowing the beef producers to move it to market quicker. Feed is converted to muscle with increased efficiency. Growth hormones supplement their natural hormone production (Beef Myths). This improves growth rates by allowing the animal to produce more muscle and less fat. Cattle consume feed, water, require grazing fields, and sometimes need medical attention as well. All of these things that the cattle require to grow are referred to as inventory. On average, the hormone-enhanced beef steer will reach market maturity 17 days faster than a non-hormone enhanced one (Canadian Animal Health Institute).
Beef producing steer are castrated early. This procedure is required to prevent uncontrolled breeding. Also, the reduced testosterone production prevents aggressive and potentially dangerous behavior (Canadian Animal Health Institute). This reduction in testosterone causes a slowed rated of maturation. This is countered by the hormone treatment and replaces the lost testosterone with estrogen, which leads to a bulkier steer with a greater beef production (Beef Myths). This is the weight to diet ratio. The beef produced with hormone these treatments is also leaner. According to the FDA, there is no discernable difference between beef raised with hormone treatments and beef produced with it (U.S. Food & Drug Administration). Another benefit of using hormones is the beef produced in this manner has a predictable, consistent quality. The uniform quality of the beef help assures a high quality and affordable beef supply. Cattle raised without the hormone enhancements tend to vary in terms of overall quality and can have unpredictable weight to diet ratios (Canadian Animal Health Institute).
A greater weight to diet ratio gives the animal a greater market value. By producing more beef per animal, the overall cost of the final product remains more reasonable. Cattle raised without hormone enhancements are typically more expensive. They can cost the beef growers between 30 to 80 dollars per animal before it reaches the market (Canadian Animal Health Institute). They are more expensive at market because they required more feed and time to reach market weight and age. That expense is further compounded at the grocery store because each steer now produces less meat. The same amount of work (transport, butchering, and carving) produces less product. All of these factors combine to make non-hormone raised beef more expensive and less productive.
The amount of trace hormones remaining in the beef produced is a major concern to many people. In fact, there is a negligible difference in the levels of these hormones from beef produced with them compared to beef produced without them (Beef Myths). A serving of beef raised without enhancing hormones contains 1.3 nanograms of estrogen. (A single nanogram is 1/1,000,000,000 or one billionth of a gram.) A similar serving of beef that is produced with growth promotants contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen. This level of residual hormones is nearly 20 times less than the FDA permits. Also, the human body produces thousands of times of this amount of hormones naturally (Beef Myths).
These hormones also occur in other foods derived from plants and animals naturally, and at usually much higher levels. A comparable serving of potatoes, for example, contains 225 nanograms of estrogen. Peas contain 340 nanograms and ice cream has 520 per serving. Wheat germ supplies 3,400 nanograms of estrogen hormones per serving (Beef Myths). The hormones produced by the human body occur in much greater quantities. The average adult body, both male and female, produces 35,000 times the hormones that could be present in any food, including hormone-produced beef (Beef Myths).
Effects on the Consumer
Perhaps the most popular controversial topic surrounding artificial growth hormones are the effects they have on the consumer (primarily negative effects). Today, there exist no universally accepted claims that there are health risks associated with consuming hormone-induced meat products (Ghandi, R.) Several longitudinal studies have been conducted since the early introduction of artificial hormones. The European Communities (abbreviated EC) was the first to conduct a major study regarding hormones. Despite discovering that 17-beta-estradiol (a common hormone used in beef) could be stored in the muscles of consumers, no scientific evidence linked this to any health problems currently or in the future (Ritchie, H). They declared that the European Unions decision to ban the substance was unjustified, and the reasons for doing so were not consistent with what it actually takes to ban a food substance.
One important aspect regarding hormones is to also understand the minute amounts of them that may be present in the meat a consumer is eating. These are the artificial hormones that were not successfully converted by the cow during the muscle-building process. The FDA is a common participant in studying rigorously the use of hormones in meat and poultry products. They have also regulated the amount of estrogen that can be present in growth hormone induced beef (above the normal levels), which is 21 billionths of a gram per 3 ounce serving. Cows that have not been induced with artificial hormones typically have .3 billionth of a gram of estrogen per 3 ounce serving (Ritchie, H).
One of the primary concerns regarding using growth hormones is their effect on the onset of puberty, and increased risk of breast cancer in woman. This fear stems from a study by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) who in the mid 1980’s conducted several studies regarding early puberty for girls who regularly consumed meat products with artificial growth hormones. They found a correlation between those who consumed these types of meat and an earlier onset of puberty in women. However, these results could not be replicated by any other major researching firm, and were regarding as merely a simple coincidence (Ritchie, H.) Despite this, many still fear that growth hormones contribute to an earlier onset of puberty. The reason being that there is scientific evidence that suggests females who strike puberty at an earlier age have an increased chance of breast cancer later in life. A similar study was conducted in Italy, where researchers investigated the use of growth hormones in middle school lunches. At the time, there was knowledge that there were hormones being used in these foods, and there were an unusual number of female students with enlarged breasts. However, none of the school food used exists any longer, which disallows researchers to truly investigate this connection and claim.
Again, these studies are strictly correlations and have had much difficulty being replicated scientifically. Along with aspartame (a common soft drink sweetener), artificial growth hormones are the most heavily studied and scrutinized of all agents the FDA researches. Even with an overwhelming amount of attention, there exists today no established link between growth hormones and health risks. Many opponents of growth hormones cite the connection between decreased health with consuming growth-hormone induced meat products. Meats that have been induced with hormones tend to be less expensive than organic meats / poultry. This would suggest the idea that consumers of cheaper, hormone induced meat also consume less expensive foods (which tend to be high in carbohydrates, salts, and fats, ultimately making them unhealthier). This, according to many may be the true culprit behind this connection.
Effects on the Animal
As there are pro’s to using added growth hormones there are also con’s. A lot of people have started to worry about the effects these hormones have. Many people are concerned about the effects these hormones have on the consumer (humans). Some people have noticed faster development in young children, especially young girls. But what tolls does this added hormone take on the animal itself? Of course we see how the cattle grow faster so that they are able to produce more milk and meat faster. But what effects does it have on the cattle that we don’t see?
Growth Hormones are used on cattle to make the animal grow faster and produce more milk. Although, most farmers agree that the use of these hormones helps their profits, it also has an effect on the actual animal. There are two different types of effects: direct effects and indirect effects. During direct effects the growth hormones binds to target cells. The hormone goes straight to the fat on the animals and breaks down the triglycerides and prohibits their ability to continue the cycle of lipids. Indirect effects are usually cause by insulin-like growth factor (also known as IGF-I). It is secreted from the liver when the hormones are injected. Most of the growth promoting effects of using growth hormones is caused by the IGF-I. “Growth is a very complex process, and requires the coordinated action of several hormones.” (Growth Hormone) The major function of using growth hormones is to target the liver and other tissues so that it will secrete the IGF-I. After the insulin-like growth factor is secreted, it stimulates cartilage cells which results in bone growth. IGF-I also plays a role in muscle growth.
These hormones are generally injected under the ear skin and when the hormone is introduced the cattle’s level of hormones increases from 7 to 20 times more. “Growth hormones induced in cattle are totally banned by the EU from the last 20 years.” (Hormones in Food) The United States should take on the EU practice and ban the use of growth hormones. The cattle should grow up and produce on their own without added hormones. The farmer will still make money without the cattle growing up quicker, it’s not like we are in need of cattle; there are plenty out there. In the US around one-third of the total cattle are supposedly being given growth hormones. These hormones can cause mastitis, which is an udder infections that can cause pus that can end up in the milk we consume. They are then given certain antibiotics that end up causing more trouble. The hormone and antibiotic residues can get into the human body and create antibiotic resistant bacteria. Not only can these hormones have negative effects on the animals and humans but it can also effect the environment because the hormones that are undigested are secreted in the cattle’s manure, which then dissolves into the soil.
Cow With Mastitis
Effects on the Environment
One of the major and most frightening side effects of growth hormones used on cattle is caused from the residual hormones left in cattle manure. Cow manure is an excellent fertilizer. Due to this, it is commonly bought from cattle farmers and used on fields as well as produce. The manure not only contaminates the surface and groundwater of where it initially fell but when it is transported and used as a fertilizer elsewhere it also contaminates that location. Many plants and animals become effects by the contamination. Fruits and vegetables that are fertilized with growth hormone-treated cattle manure become tainted with residual hormones that are then digested by animals and consumers.
Not only is the hormone runoff absorbed into the soil and surrounding plants but it is contaminates any water it comes into contact with. It can be absorbed into ponds, lakes, streams and wells. Some types of fish seem to be very susceptible to the hormone residue in the manure runoff. Not only does the runoff cause fish to have reproductive problems (Artificial Hormones) but “there was a general pattern where female fish were slightly masculinized and male fish slightly feminized” (OCA) by runoff. One study, which was published in a scientific journal called Environmental Health Perspectives, found that “male fish had one-third less testosterone and their testes were about half as big as those of unexposed fish” (Science Daily) while “female fish had about 20 percent less estrogen and 45 percent more testosterone than females from the uncontaminated stream” (Science Daily). Due to this imbalance of hormones in the fish their reproductive systems begin to not work properly and their offspring develop deformities and similar reproductive issues. As time progresses and more fish in an aquatic system are effected by the runoff the more problems occur. They begin to lay less eggs and less of the eggs get fertilized. This causes a significantly smaller amount of fish to be born each year and the new generation of fish are often born with deformities, such as bumps on their heads (OCA) as well as smaller reproductive organs, like in their parents. Also, the offspring carry on the trait in which the males have less testosterone than normal while the females have more. This results in viscous cycle in which less eggs are produced and fertilized each year.
In the 1990's a study was done in which “three sets of finding suggested that hormonally active agents may cause adverse health effects in humans and wildlife and thereby contribute to environmental degradation” (Soto, et al., 2004, p. 1). The study went on to discuss how anabolic agents, which are used to increase the growth of cattle, can remain in cow manure for more than 270 days. Due to this, if waterways come into contact with the excreta from cattle treated with anabolic growth hormones then it is likely that “measurable amounts of hormones are released” from the manure which will then contaminate the water downstream as well as the wildlife inhabiting it( Soto, et al., 2004, p. 1). Upon examination of the wildlife in the contaminated aquatic systems it was found that they suffered from “developmental, neurologic[al], and endocrine alterations” (Soto, et al., 2004, p 1).
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Due to the large demand of beef, cattle farmers have resorted to using growth hormones in order to increase their production and lower their costs. There are pro’s and con’s to this decision to use these growth hormones. The pro’s are for the farmers which in return for using these growth hormones, they get back faster growing cattle that increase their production for milk and meat. Another pro for using these hormones is that it reduces the farmers cost for the cattle but, it increases the farmers profit that they are making off the cattle. The cons are the effects of the consumer, the animal, and the environment. People who consume beef products that have added hormones can face a variety of issues. Some issues are the early development is young children and another being decreased health in children and adults. The effects on the cattle include the faster growth, direct and indirect effects, and a disease called mastitis. The environment also takes a beating with these added growth hormones. The undigested hormones are secreted into the cattle’s manure, which is then dissolved into the soil. Also since cow manure is sold and bought as a fertilizer for plants, these undigested hormones may be in the gardens of fruits and vegetables being bought.
The use of these growth hormones seems like a cycle that goes on and on. From the hormones being injected into the cattle and those effects, and then proceeding to the consumer and the environment. Although the ratio’s, numbers, and percentages are small of hormones per meat and milk some people would just rather buy it without. The topic of benefits vs. risks: The use of growth hormones on animals to make them produce more products is hit or miss. You are either against it or not, or just unaware of it. After reading this article, hopefully more people will be more educated on the topic and can make a decision on how they choose to buy their beef products.
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