Hormones, Antibiotics and Residues: Part 1 – Hormones

Given the heading of hormones, antibiotics, and residues, one might think we are about to open “Pandora’s Box.”  If you will but closely scrutinize, absorb, and critically evaluate the material honestly, you’ll be challenged to find valid concerns.  Now, let me prove that statement.

Yes, the subject of hormones stimulates significant responses from activists and consumers alike.  Based on fact, hormones shouldn’t be an issue, but, THEY ARE!

cattle grazing in field

Before we get into the biochemistry, let us go back in history.  England, among other places, wanted American fed beef.  The National Farmers Union there, did not.  The only justification for any possible concern, preventing that importation, was that the Americans utilized hormones in their beef production.  The Farmer’s Union in defense of protectionism, shouted to the world that American beef was bulging with hormones.  The facts then, the 1990’s, haven’t changed much: it was politics at its best then, and still is.  In the world of export/import, everything is a governmental trade off; most of the deciding factors involved have to do with other issues, rather than the product itself.

Before we get through with this subject, most of you will recognize that politics plays a much bigger part in decision making than simply clarifying the facts.  Most all of the emotional response today, concerning hormones, is still based on fear of the unknown (xenophobia).  It has accompanied mankind through most of its history.  Witches, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, among others, are all a part of this strange and complex emotion.

The “Catholic menace,” at one time, was termed the primary source of all of America’s misfortune.  Fear of the Chinese in the later 1800’s, the suspicion of German Americans poisoning America’s food supply during WWI, and the internment of 110,000 Japanese Americans during WWII were all based on fear.

Allowing our fears to dictate our lives is indefensible.  Xenophobia has been with mankind since our beginning.  We know what it is.  We know its effects.  Yet, we still fall prey to its effects.  It seems as though we cannot respond to the unknown in any other way; at least, not when someone else shouts “alarm,” with some urgency in their voice.

Why are we not already alarmed about our looming food crisis?  It is already a real crisis.  It is going to affect us all; more each day into the future.  Yet our populace is focused on painting agriculture black.  They believe that agriculture is not doing it right.  How do they know that?  Do they have any kind of knowledge base whatsoever, in coming to that conclusion?  Do you realize that one in seven go to bed hungry, world wide, every night?  Over the next 34 years we will add another 2.5 billion people to the current population of 7 billion.  The U.S. may be the only country in the world that could grow the food necessary for this additional population.  But, it can only be accomplished through the use of GMO based seeds—enabling the additional per acre yields that will be needed.  There is no science based evidence supporting the fear of GMO seed stocks.    Production efficiencies is all that has enabled agriculture to continue to remain solvent.  Now, the American populace would prefer that agriculture be discontinued because some activist painted us black?  One day, peoples of this planet will look back and equate today’s fear of GMO, to the witch burnings of the 16th century.

The use of various hormones in cattle (ear implants which dissolve) is justified under the heading of production efficiencies.  Production efficiencies (producing more with less) have enabled economic survival of agriculture, in general, and the beef cattle industry, in particular.

EXAMPLE:  The reigning milking champion, a Holstein cow in Wisconsin, produced over 72,000 pounds of milk in a 365 day period.  She is one of the 9 million dairy cows in the United States, today—which is 16 million less than post WWII.  Yet, today’s cows produce 60% more milk.  A glass of milk today has two-thirds LESS carbon footprint than 40 years ago.  Production efficiencies are the key to our survival, relative to food.

The use of hormone implants in beef cattle enable a 20% increase in intake (roughage and grain) efficiencies.  Meaning that it takes 20% less feed to produce each pound of beef.  That is huge!

Now, let me see if I can show you the relative risk involved in their use, compared to all the other sources of hormones in our lives.  To understand the issue we must define the players: “Estrogen” is any one of several steroid hormones produced by the ovaries; or anyone of several synthetic compounds that mimic the activity of estrogen.

“Phytoestrogens” are natural estrogens found in foods and plants.  “Xenoestrogens” are chemical estrogens found in pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and many common plastics—that leach “xenoestrogens” into the environment.

All sources of estrogens have much the same action on the body, female and male.  They affect the body in a similar manner, as if it were the natural hormone of the ovaries.  Thus, when “estrogenic activity” is discussed, we often fail to include all forms and sources of estrogen-like compounds in our discussions.  It is often impossible to lay blame on any one source of estrogen.

Our critics of beef would have you believe that our product is responsible for several harmful health issues inflicted upon consumers.  Our critics would have you believe that the tiny amounts of hormones in beef are responsible for early puberty in girls.  Given the following levels, I might suggest that over-weight conditions, processed foods, high caloric drinks, and a lack of exercise might be considered.  It should also be noted that “fat cells” stimulate the body to produce estrogen.

LEVELS OF ESTROGEN, from a variety of sources:

Soy flour, defatted …………………………. 755,000,000 ng/500 grams

Tofu  ………………………………………………113,500,000 ng/500 grams

Pinto beans…………………………………………..900,000 ng/500 grams

White bread…………………………………………..300,000 ng/500 grams

Peanuts…………………………………………………100,000 ng/500 grams

a single birth control pill…………………………..34,000 ng/500 grams

Cabbage…………………………………………………..12,000 ng/500 grams

average Garden Salad…………………………….…12,000 ng/500 grams

Eggs………………………………………………….……..….500 ng/500 grams

Butter…………………………………………………..………310 ng/500 grams

BEEF, hormone treated……………………….…………….7 ng/500 grams

BEEF, no hormones administered……………..……….5 ng/500 grams

*a nanogram (ng) is one/one billionth of a gram

*500 grams was apparently considered serving size

COMPLIMENTS OF: USDA/ARS (2000)

LEVELS OF ESTROGEN

Pregnant woman……………………………..…….….…19,600,000 ng/day

Non-pregnant woman………….……………..……….…….513,000 ng/day

Adult man……………………………………………………..…136,000 ng/day

pre-puberal children……………………………………….…  41,000 ng/day

a birth control pill…………………………..…….….……34,000 ng/per pill

Consuming 500 grams of hormone treated beef…….……………..7 ng

Consuming 500 grams on non-hormone treated beef………….…5 ng

(HOFFMAN & EVERSOL, 1986)

Take a few moments to consider each of these categories, regarding sources of estrogenic influences on the body—man, woman and child.  These levels are presented as the normal, average, daily production of estrogen, compared to that level found in beef.

Consider the variety of estrogenic influence found in our foods.  Beef pales in comparison to other foods, yet the clammer is about beef!  Remember that many activist groups, attempting to influence the consumer, have ulterior motives—including the demise of animal agriculture.

The beef industry has become its own worst enemy allowing our consumers to become estranged from the facts of our activities.  Most Americans today are at least three generations removed from the farm.  They have simply lost contact with agriculture, in general, and the beef cattle industry, in particular.  Producers of beef have sat around waiting for someone else to tell our story.  The Beef Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have failed us!  All the pretty pictures and brochures about how to cook beef, have failed us.  My fellow veterinarians and producers alike, must now make the effort to reconnect, one consumer at a time.

Hormones, antibiotics, residues, animal welfare, environmental issues, and pollution are all just a starting place, as we begin to educate Americans and the world regarding just how conscious we are about not adulterating our beef product.  Beef is unabashedly wholesome, nutritious, and healthful.  Beef fat is 50% monounsaturated (the same as touted as heart health in olive oil), and one-third of the saturated fat is stearic acid, which does not raise blood cholesterol levels.  Eaten in moderation, as all good things should be, it is absolutely healthy.  Lean beef has been proven  to be as healthy as skinless chicken breast!  I am proud of “fresh beef.”

When beef, or the fragments thereof, moves into the hands of food processors, there may be concern; at least for me, personally.  Restructured, flaked beef may provide the necessary protein, but it is an adulterated product in my mind; though I am sure it is safe to eat.  If you go to fast food places, you’ve had it.