Hormone Havoc

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.

Image from a previous post written for South Dakota Farm Families, Farmer’s Daughter Segment.

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.





Meat Inspection

Today, many people are concerned about the safety of their food.  We want to be certain that what we are feeding our families (and ourselves), isn’t going to cause any harm.  To ensure a product is safe, it must go through inspection and be deemed safe.

In 1906, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair, was published.  This book followed an immigrant family as they started a new life in the United States working in the stockyards of Chicago.  Part of the book talks about the poor working conditions for the immigrant families.  President Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle and moved forward to pass the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906; requiring by law that all meat available for sale be inspected for wholesomeness.  Now, meat inspection is regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service, an offshoot of the United States Department of Agriculture.

There are a few different steps to inspection (although the process is similar in all species, these steps will be specific to beef):

Antemortem Inspection (ie. inspection of the animal prior to slaughter):  After the animal is unloaded at the slaughterhouse, it is inspected by a USDA Inspector or Veterinarian.  If any animals are deemed sick, injured, or unsafe for human consumption, they are removed from the food chain. 

The blue ink indicates that this beef animal was over 30 months of age. All neurological tissue and the spinal column will be removed and not available for sale.

Maturity:  Age of the cattle is very important in deciding how the carcass will be utilized.  Age is determined by dentition (how many permanent incisors they have).  If they are over 30 months of age, the carcass is clearly marked.  A beef animal over 30 months of age is at a higher risk of a neurological problem known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly referred to as mad cow.  Although it is highly unlikely that an animal will be infected even if over 30 months of age, extra precautions are taken just to be safe.  Meat from these animals can still be safely consumed, but all neurological tissues and the spinal column must be removed and destroyed.

Postmortem (after the animal has been slaughtered):  Once the internal organs are removed, the inspector evaluates the heart, lungs and liver to look for any signs of infection, sickness, or disease.  If all these organs pass inspection, the carcassh is deemed safe for consumption.

This is the USDA inspection stamp you will see on meat products. The number on the bottom is specific to each processing facility.

Finally, the carcass is evaluated for final inspection.  In the meat industry, there is zero tolerance for fecal matter, ingesta and milk.  If there are any signs of these contaminants, they must be cut off.  Any other signs of contamination are also removed as they may be a carrier to the three zero tolerance contaminants.  After any sign of contamination has been removed, the carcass is sprayed with 180 degree F water as a way of thermal pasteurization.  The carcass may also be steam pasteurized and sprayed with a low concentration lactic or acetic acid to hinder bacteria growth.

Once all steps of inspection have been completed, the carcass is marked with an inspection stamp.  As stated in my post about labelling, labels on all meat products require an inspection stamp.  All processors have a unique number specific to their location which is included on the inspection stamp.  I really like the app “USDA Meat and Poultry Inspection (MPI) Directory,” as it lets me type in the number on the inspection stamp and find out where my food came from, so cool!

This post just touches on the topic of inspection around the time of slaughter.  There are many additional points during meat production that are regulated to ensure a safe, wholesome product for your family.  We will touch on those soon!

*All the highlighted words in this and future posts will be included in a “Common Terms” post.  They are words that I know are often used in the industry but may be a little confusing! *

Welcome to The Meating Room

While looking through Facebook this week I came across these two articles, one right after the other:

“Red meat and dairy good for a healthy diet, study suggests”


“Less beef, more beans: Experts say the world needs a new diet”

What?  How can this be?  It’s no wonder that so many people are skeptical about what they are buying at the grocery store when they see these mixed messages day after day.  This bothered me, so I did the best thing I could think of…

Google: “Are blogs still relevant?”

According to the web, blogs are indeed still relevant.  So here I am.  Now, this blog may not convince anybody to eat meat, and that’s okay.  That’s not the purpose of this website.  I do hope, however, to share some information that I have learned through my experiences and education to at least help put people at ease about what they’re feeding their family. I hope to use this platform to share what I know about what it takes for meat to get from the farm, to the grocery store, to your kitchen table.  I want to introduce you to the meat industry and help to answer questions and address common concerns.

So, welcome to The Meating Room!  Here, we will touch on topics like safe handling tips, meaning behind the label, farming practices, inspection/grading, and much more.  I’m excited to give this a shot, and hope that through this blog we can all learn a little something about the food we eat. Thanks for joining me, now let’s get started!