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Hormones in cattle

Those ads from A&W claiming that their beef is raised without hormones or steroids are popping up on TV with annoying frequency. The intent obviously is to suggest that this meat is somehow safer than competitors' brands. There is absolutely no evidence for this.

Those ads from A&W claiming that their beef is raised without hormones or steroids are popping up on TV with annoying frequency. The intent obviously is to suggest that this meat is somehow safer than competitors' brands. There is absolutely no evidence for this. The growth promoters used in cattle, usually released from capsules implanted in the ear, are regulated just like drugs intended for human use and residues are carefully monitored. The use of growth promoters results in better conversion of feed to muscle, meaning that meat can be produced more economically. Six such substances are approved. Three are natural hormones (testosterone, estradiol, and progesterone) and three are chemically similar synthetic hormones (melengestrol acetate, trenbolone acetate and zeranol). All of these, except for zeranol, are chemically classified as steroids. Zeranol is extracted from a mould found on corn. That should please the "natural" crowd who assume that natural substances are always better than syhthetics. Zeranol is mildly estrogenic, with 25% of the estrogenic activity of natural estrogens at the same dose level.

The fact is that hormonal activity in treated beef sold for consumption is indistinguishable from that in non-treated beef. And remember that meat contains hormones naturally produced by the animal in far greater amounts than any residue from growth promoters. Furthermore, far, far more natural estrogen is produced by the human body on a daily basis than that consumed in meat from treated cattle. For example, a woman produces about 500,000 nanograms of estrogen a day (40 times that much when pregnant) while the amount in a quarter pound hamburger is about 2 nanograms! The estrogenic activity of milk, butter or eggs is much greater than that of meat from implanted cattle and soy products are millions of times more estrogenic.

A&W's suggestion that their beef is healthier than other beef is not supported by science. It is a marketing gimmick. Eating an A&W burger is no better in terms of health than any other burger. Another way of putting this is that burgers made from cattle raised without hormone implants are just as suspect nutritionally as any other burger. And that suspicion involves an increased risk of cancer in carnivore populations when compared with vegetarians. Of course that doesn't mean hamburgers can't be a part of a healthy diet, but they shouldn't be a staple. I do occasionally eat an A&W burger, when I can't find an open Harvey's. And I certainly do not give any consideration to whether the meat comes from implanted cattle or not.