• Monday, June 9, 2014

    What’s in a food label? Raised without hormones

    I’ve been writing a series of posts about food labeling. My previous posts have been about labels that involve the whole system of raising animals, like Organic, Naturally-raised or Grass-fed. Some labels are more specific and address one particular technology used for raising animals like hormones or antibiotics. Today I’m going to address the labels concerning hormones in meat.

    First let me address “Hormone Free”

    A big joke in the livestock industry is when we see a food, especially meat milk or eggs, advertised as “Hormone Free.”

    All animals have hormones and need them to grow and produce meat, milk, eggs, babies, or whatever. All food has hormones. Nothing can actually be ‘hormone-free.’ Saying that beef is “hormone free” is about as pointless as talking about a boneless chicken ranch (you know, all the chickens just lay there.)


    But, we all know that they really mean that the animals were raised without the use of added hormones.

    Technically, you cannot label a meat product as hormone free. You see it on signs and menus, but it shouldn’t be on a label.

    You CAN label a meat product as “Raised without hormones” to let the consumer know that no extra hormones were administered to the animal. Now, that means different things depending on which species the label is on.

    What does that mean for Pork and Poultry?

    In the US, it is against federal regulations to use hormones to raise pork and poultry.


    Yep, its true.
     
    Wait… what?

    That’s right, no pork or poultry in the US is raised with hormones (other than the ones they make in their own bodies).

    But you see it on pork and poultry labels?
    Yep, meat companies are allowed to label their pork and poultry with a “No hormones administered” label. All pork and poultry in the US is eligible for the label. When they choose to use that label, they have to also write that “Federal Regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork/ poultry.”

    
    Some examples of pork and poultry labels that say that hormones are not allowed to be used.
     
    So, what about beef?

    In beef, it is legal to administer hormones to the cattle. They are similar to the hormones the cattle produce naturally and they allow them to grow larger, leaner, and more efficiently. They help the cattle grow more beef using fewer natural resources.

    These hormones are actually administered in what we call an Implant in their ear, not usually fed to them. There are several different options available, and they are usually applied in the feedlot or finishing phase of the animal’s life (the last few months) before harvest.

    Just like anything given to the cattle, the FDA and USDA have rules and regulations that the farmers must follow concerning the implants. These rules will involve how long they can be administered and how long before harvest.


    Back to the label. When the implants are not used, the beef company may say so on the label.  

    Big Island Beef was really popular in Hawaii
    It is raised without the use of hormones.


    Very often the ‘raised without the use of hormones’ label will accompany another claim like Natural, Grass-fed, or Organic.

    How much does it really matter?  

    When beef raised without hormones was compared to that from cattle that was given hormones, the level of hormones in the beef was slightly different. In an 8-oz steak, the amount of estrogen found in steak from the implanted steer was 5.1 nanograms and that found in a non-implanted calf was 3.5 nanograms.



    How big is a nanogram? One nanogram is one billionth of a gram. That 8 oz steak is a little over 226 grams.

     
    This has been an awfully long post to answer a simple question, but people that know me expect that. I hope this helps to understand another meat label. Please let me know if you have any more questions.

     

    35 comments:

    1. Are you saying that it's not enough added hormones to make a big difference to us the consumers?

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Exactly! To give you a reference, an average birth control pill contains 35,000 ng estrogen. Once ounce of cabbage contains 1000X more estrogen activity than an ounce of beef from an implanted animal. Just because we can measure something, doesn't make it significant.

        Delete
      2. You do realize that's not the only difference between Grass-fed and factory farm raised beef right?

        Delete
      3. What do you consider a "factory Farm" to be?

        Delete
    2. Estrogen (in Nanograms) that is naturally produced by the human body each day - Non-pregnant woman 480,000, Pregnant woman 3,415,000, Man 136,000, Male child (before puberty) 41,500, Female child (before puberty) 54,000. So 1.6 nanograms extra estrogen in an 8 oz steak from implants is insignificant.

      ReplyDelete
    3. First, thank you for this article. It is one step further to understanding the food we are consuming. My question is about milk consumed by our little ones. Would it show up more in milk than it does meat? From this article in baby center, the cows experience negative health changes following hormone supplement. I need information as to product (milk) transferability. http://www.babycenter.com/0_bovine-growth-hormone-and-milk-what-you-need-to-know_12493.bc

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Thanks for the nice comment.

        I'm not a dairy farmer, so I'm glad to see that Susan has addressed you concerns about the cow's health in the next comment.

        The hormones used in beef production are different than the ones used in dairy. Beef animals are given steroid hormones that mimic sex hormones and help them grow. Dairy animals are given growth hormone.

        Thanks again,
        Janeal

        Delete
      2. now address the issue of grass-fed versus GMO corn fed.

        Delete
      3. no such thing as non gmo sweet corn.......humans eat sweet corn and make sodas and processed foods from it........cattle are fed old school field corn......worms pesticides and all........the cows arnt eating the gmo corn at all....YOU ARE.....when you eat nachos, doritos, drink a coke, in your pizza dough, baby food etc etc.....if your that concerned about gmo, dont look for it in your meat......look for it in the big/small name processed foods, cosmetics and vitamines

        Delete
      4. Atara, I'm a dairy farmer and can address your concerns as well. There is absolutely no difference in the hormone levels of milk from cows given rBST and rBST free cows. I didn't believe it when my Dad first told me but there is no difference at all. When milk is advertised at 'rBST free' we simply have to take the farmers word for it because there is no test that can tell milk from treated cows apart from milk from untreated cows because they are identical hormone level wise! Hope this helps!

        Delete
      5. Sweet corn isn't GM in the sense that the public think of, it's simply a naturally occurring recessive mutation that's been exploited in several varieties through cultivation. There are no added genes from other organisms in sweet corn. However,many varieties of field corn that are fed to cattle are indeed GMOs. Round-up ready and BT corn are two prime examples of feed varieties that are GM, i.e they have a gene or genes from another organism in their genetic material. Almost nobody uses "old school" corn anymore since we have superior GM varieties that are drought resistant, herbicide resistant, and pest-resistant. Using anything else nets much lower yields.

        These GM products that are fed to the cattle do not translate to any difference in the meat though. The BT toxin produced by BT-strain corn is not in the reproductive tissues (Ears/tassels), but rather concentrated in the roots, and even if it was, first-pass metabolism in the cattle will remove it way before slaughter (not to mention it's completely nontoxic to anything that isn't an insect). And RoundUp-Ready corn is simply resistant to herbicides that kill monocots. They don't produce anything special that can be consumed or absorbed in any way.

        The worst thing you have to worry about is overuse of pesticides/herbicides, but that's exactly why we make GMO crops: so we can use less chemicals in the field. This is more of a concern with direct human consumption of crops however, not really with the meat industry.

        Delete
    4. Thanks for the interesting and informative information! As far as the dairy cows, the hormone they produce is a protein hormone (not a steroid hormone) and is broken down by digestion like all other proteins. Dairy farmers choose to use supplemental hormone (known as rbst) for increasing milk production and it is a proven, safe technology tool. If you see milk labeled hormone free or BST Free, they are referring to the fact that it is produced without supplemental hormone but all milk has the naturally occurring hormone. We have used the artificial hormone on our farm and our cows did not have any health issues. We no longer use any artificial hormones due to the request of consumers--we actually sign an agreement with our dairy cooperative that markets our milk that we will not use the added hormone.

      ReplyDelete
    5. That hormone is illegal in Europe and Canada. If it is completely safe, why have they linked it to cancer?

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Canada and Europe have very different dairy markets. Political and Economic reasons are largely behind the ban, not science.

        Science links cancer to IGF1 levels, but there is still a large dispute over this link.

        Some claim milk causes higher IGF1 levels in those who drink it but the same was found with Soymilk as well. The concentrations in milk from BST and non BST cannot be determined because the natural variation is larger.

        The major cancer societies state there is not enough research proving any link between rBGH and cancer.

        People tend to be scared due to scientific illiteracy. Look up Dihydrogen Monoxide. Along with that also realize that the concentration of things is important. Most chemicals are toxic, we eat them everyday organic or not. Our bodies are made up of them, but what matters is the balance, the ratio, the concentration.

        Delete
      2. They also linked red M&Ms to cancer and said eggs where bad for you.

        Delete
      3. To put in perspective of how much hormone this is, please reference the amount of estrogen thatnaturally occurs in soybeans that has been deemed so safe and healthy.

        Delete
      4. 1) it hasn't been linked to cancer. By anyone. A few scientists guessed that there might be a correlation, but there is no agreement between these hormone levels and cancerous growth.

        2) Europe and Canada are quick with the trigger finger to ban agricultural products because the public is uneasy. Shit, you can't even do GMO research in Europe anymore because they're so harsh with regulations.

        Delete
    6. I have a BS in Food Science and am working on my M.Ag. in food safety. Thank you for posting this easy to read and very informative article. I can't tell you how many times I've had to explain to people about "hormone-free" beef.

      ReplyDelete
    7. Comment from a still-skeptic that was presented to me: It the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics most people are concerned about. Wonder if she will address that and the associated ensuing problems.

      ReplyDelete
    8. Thank you for sharing valuable information. Nice post. I enjoyed reading this post. The whole blog is very nice found some good stuff and good information here Thanks..Also visit my page. animal welfare Animal rights and environmental extremists do more than demonstrate and push radical legislation.

      ReplyDelete
    9. The big take away for me is the fact that Dr. Y has two daughters that undoubtedly eat the meat described in this article. If it is safe enough for her family, it is safe enough for my family as well. Also, thanks to Brian Feldpausch for describing nanograms of estrogen in relative terms. Excellent info throughout.

      ReplyDelete
    10. Yep, a lot of people are aware of the hormone explanation but I'd like to see the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics addressed as does the previous commenter.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. This is the first time I've seen sub-therapeutic dosing brought up in a conversation about beef. My father ran a 100,000 head feedlot for 40 years and was very against this practice. In his eyes, it was only brought about to replace good animal husbandry. This is an extremely controversial topic within the cattle industry. I know of several major ranches who raise cattle both in the United States as well as Canada who, as a policy, do not do this. Some examples; Parker Ranch in Hawaii, Four Sixes Ranch, Waggoner Ranch, etc. There are many producers that don't use anti-biotics unless the animal is very ill, and that animal is then pulled from their "natural" program. I encourage everyone to support producers such as previous mentioned. It is important to get to know producers in your area. Tell them what you want, but be willing to pay a bit more because it can be more expensive to raise this way. Ultimately, and every producer I know would agree, it would be best if every steer/heifer could be grass feed all the time, but there is not enough land to do this. Keep in mind that even grass fed cattle still get sick (foot rot, pink eye, etc), so some will still require anti-biotics, but the practice of sub-therapeutic dosing will eventually ruin the effectiveness of anti-biotics, the same way it does when we as humans miss-use them.

        Delete
      2. Honestly, we have a 3,000 head feedlot and we don't have "sub-therapeutic" antibiotic use. The only times any of our animals receive antibiotics is when they're sick and the humane thing to do is to treat a suffering animal. Industry standards do not allow for antibiotics or hormones to remain in an animals system when they are sent for slaughter. A similar tactic for our dairy cattle, any sick cow that received antibiotics was milked apart from the rest of the herd and her milk dumped while receiving antibiotic therapy. So just like you and me, the animal's body uses it, processes it, and discards of it. It really is cost-prohibitive and doesn't make general business sense. Our feed for our animals is costly enough, I don't understand how any large-scale farmer could afford such an input costs as we are constantly searching for the best feed price and best feed ration for our animals. I don't honestly know personally of any other farmers who use this tactic either, so I find it hard to believe it's used overwhelmingly in the industry.

        Delete
      3. We own and operate a 900 head feedlot and do not use sub-therapeutic antibiotics or know of any feedlots in our area that do. The ONLY time we use antibiotics is for the treatment of a sick animal. The health of our animals is very important to us. We also closely follow the directions of our veterinarian as well as withdrawl limitations. The health and safety of our animals is of our utmost concern as well as the product that we are putting on your table and ours.

        Delete
      4. Hey. I wrote the first reply. I'm glad to see that neither of you use this practice. It's used with many feedlots but I definitely don't support it.

        Delete
      5. All I can say is it's easy to say what should and shouldn't be done in the beef industry, but when it's your yearly paycheck on the line you do what you need to do to keep your cattle alive. I don't mass treat with antibiotics but have know people who do. This practice I feel is usually done when cattle are shipped in on trucks a long distance. Cattle get stressed when hauled long distances and their defenses get low. I'm sure people abuse the medicine but I also know there was a time when I wish I would have mass treated a truck load of shipped in cattle to our farm. Sometimes treating them as they get sick is to late. And also if I worked on the Parker Ranch I would probably be a big advocate of banning this practice also, you know since they don't have to worry about harsh weather or what their cattle are going to eat in the winter!

        Delete
    11. When hormones are eaten, they are digested, broken down and largely neutralized, so they don’t act as hormones anymore. Even if they did, the amount of estrogen in implanted beef seems miniscule when we consider that a child’s body produces around 50,000 nanograms of estrogen per day. An adult female (non-pregnant) will produce 480,000 nanograms of estrogen per day on its own. Compare beef to 225 nanograms of estrogen in potatoes, 340 nanograms of estrogen in peas, 520 nanograms of estrogen in ice cream, 2,000 nanograms of estrogen in cabbage, 11,250 nanograms of estrogen in soy milk, and 170,000 nanograms of estrogen in soybean oil… all based on a 3 ounce serving size. One birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. It may be surprising to learn that there are more hormones in commonly eaten food products than there are in beef.

      ReplyDelete
    12. So, on a non implanted heifer, I would imagine that her estrogen levels are higher or lower depending on where she is in her cycle at slaughter?

      ReplyDelete
    13. Interesting article. I appreciate the call to logical thinking. Obviously there has to be a difference in the hormone that is naturally occurring in the animals body and a synthetic hormone that is introduced to them. So even if the measurable nanograms are nearly the same, arent we comparing apples and oranges? My question is, how safe are SYNTHETIC hormones to be consumed by humans? What are they made from? I know we do it all the time, but our population is also getting sicker all the time as well.

      ReplyDelete
    14. Snapcracklepip. Since when is round up ready corn not a GMO. Cattle eat both GMO soybeans and corn. I don't believe its a problem but inform correctly.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Hey if you want to get technical there is no such thing as GMO corn or beans any more and you can than the Aztec for that. they are the ones who started to cross pollinate and mess with the reproduction of maze to create a larger yield for there growing civilization no different than what we are trying to do now

        Delete
    15. So, if the amount of estrogen is so small and if there's such an unnoticeable difference in implanted vs non, why is it even used? As a business person, it seems kind of silly to use something if it has such negligible results. Further, when did we start implanting cows and feeding them corn. My grandparents were rancher/farmers and they didn't treat or feed corn. It seems as though we are integrating the whole picture here.

      ReplyDelete
      Replies
      1. Ok i might be able to help on this. I am a cow calf producer and we do not give implants but many of the ranches do around me.What it boils down to is you take a risk like me claiming all natural and hitting the niche market or put a $0.75 implant in and putting on an additional 10 to 15 lbs. No it does not hurt any one nor will it stunt growth, grow moles or extra fingers. It is extra money for the producer when it comes time to sell because the consumer is getting a few more 8 oz. steaks or bigger hamburger patties.

        Delete