Growth Hormones in Food Animals
Diet & Nutrition

Growth Hormones in Food Animals: What’s the Risk?

Scientists in the US still do not agree regarding the risk to children or adults relating to consumption of hormone treated meat. The FDA remains adamant that there is no risk. A small number of studies seem to disagree. The European restrictions follow the “precautionary principle” until more concrete data is available.

A variety of laboratory studies using human cells as well as animals do show effects. One animal study found that the hormone zeranol, used in cattle, created more rapid puberty onset.). Breast cells have been affected in studies using zeranol. Normal breast cells were affected, turning into cells exhibiting signs of early cancer development.

Another study showed that cattle hormones found in local streams interfered with reproductive processes and behaviors in fish.

Children who ate the most protein from animal sources were found, in a 2009 study, to enter puberty about seven months earlier than children who consumed the least amount of animal protein. But were their other factors involved?

Although conclusive evidence has not been found, many believe there is potential risk and that precautions should be taken.

Can manipulating growth hormones in dairy increase IGF to unhealthy levels?

Studies have found higher levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) have been associated with an increased risk of various cancers in humans, including breast cancer.

And research has shown that rBGH-treated cows have milk that contains up to 10 times more IGF than other milk.

So how do you minimize your family’s risk?

While the issues are studied, here’s what you can do to minimize potential risk:

* Choose “USDA Certified Organic” beef and rBGH-free dairy products. Organic meat can’t be treated with hormones, drugs or antibiotics. Organic poultry can’t be treated with antibiotics or other drugs. Additionally, animals must be fed organically grown feed, so no genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be used.

* Purchase “sustainably-raised meat” from a local, sustainable farm. Just check with the farmer to ensure no hormones were used if the meat does not have the USDA organic label. Many smaller independent farmers do not use artificial hormones but may not be able to go through the certification required for the label due to cost.

* Don’t eat farm-raised fish. Wild-caught fish are preferred because farm-raised are often contaminated with endocrine disruptors and other toxins such as antibiotics. While farm-raised fish are not given hormones, they can be given feed that contains animals that may have been exposed to hormones. If you do eat farm-raised fish, try to find those labeled as not having been given antibiotics and not having been provided with feed that could include hormones. Many seafood suppliers and markets provide this type of information.