A few months ago, I met a woman on an airplane who was on her way to a yoga retreat. After visiting for a while, I told her I was studying meat science. She proceeded to ask lots of questions (as many people do, and I very warmly welcome). We got on the topic of hormone usage in livestock. She told me that she was worried that excess hormones in meat were causing her grandson to develop womanly features.
Hormone usage in livestock production is a common source of curiosity and insecurity of consumers that are not tied to the industry. It is totally understandable. If I didn’t grow up involved in the industry, I would question it as well.
Hormone implants are used in growing livestock (specifically, cattle) to help them be more efficient in converting feed to muscle. Hormones are also known as repartitioning agents. Meaning, they take the energy from the feed and rather than the animal accumulating excess fat, they use that energy to build muscle. That muscle is what turns to meat after the animal has been harvested.
Implants are very small and administered in the form of a small pellet under the skin in the back of the calves’ ear. This allows for slow release of the hormone, and since the ears are discarded, ensures that the pellet does not end up in human food production. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration), is active in ensuring that meat from animals implanted with hormones is safe to eat. If it was a concern for human health, the practice would not be used and the meat would not be allowed on the market.
Now, some people ask, “do hormones used end up in the meat.” It is important to note that every food has naturally occurring hormones. Including beef. My favorite example to compare this is beef vs. cabbage.
One, 3 oz. serving of implanted beef has approximately 1.9 nanograms of estrogen, (compared to 1.3 ng of non-implanted beef).
One serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms of estrogen.
It would take 1,052 servings of beef to get the same amount of estrogen as 1 serving of cabbage. That is 197 pounds. The average American consumes approximately 57 pounds of beef per year. Following those numbers, it would take 3.5 years to get the same amount of estrogen from beef as one serving of cabbage.
Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat cabbage. One nanogram is equal to one billionth of a gram. One billionth. That is trace amounts. I am a huge supporter of having a well-balanced diet, including beef and cabbage. Yes, there are other hormones besides just estrogen used in beef production; however, similar examples as this can be found to demonstrate the trace amounts passed to food for human consumption.
There is so much regulation done to ensure safe, high quality food is making it into the hands of the consumer. Whether that be beef, cabbage, or any other item you choose to purchase at the store. If hormone implants caused a food safety risk, let me assure you, it would not be a practice utilized by any producer.