Hormones in Beef

img_1564Does my beef have hormones in it?  Yes, it sure does.  And do you know what else has hormones in it?  Everything that grows.  Meat from animals and plant foods all have hormones in them.  Salt is the only food we consume that does not have hormones in it.  So, yes, the beef that we raise on our farm and that you eat has hormones in it.  So how did we get to the point where consumers have been led to believe that the use of hormones is not safe for us?  Why are there products in the grocery store that say hormone free, making the assumption that hormones are bad?  That is a great question and one that we should challenge.  Are these “hormone free” products safe and healthy for us to consume?  Absolutely, I have no doubt of this.  But to say that they are hormone free is quite frankly not true.

As a mom, I constantly think about what is going into the three little bodies that I cherish most.  There is a whole new level of responsibility that goes along with feeding your family and you want to make sure that you’re providing them with safe, wholesome, sustainable food.

It is incredibly challenging and even overwhelming to go to the grocery store these days.  Since such a small percent of the population is producing the world’s food, that means that most consumers don’t have a first hand understanding of how their food was raised.  To make matters even harder, there are lots of clever yet elusive marketing tactics that are used today which make it almost impossible to decide what is truly good for you and what is just marketing garbage.  Hormone free, antibiotic free, cage free, natural, organic, whole grain, grass fed, etc.  The numerous tag lines on packaging make it very difficult to know what to believe and what to buy.  What does natural actually mean?  What’s the difference between grass fed and grain fed?  What am I supporting by buying this product?

I feel your pain and I’m right there with you reading the labels of products and trying to figure out if I’m being misled or not.  Since we raise livestock, we butcher and eat the meat that we raise on our own farm.  We know exactly what was done to that animal at every step of the way.  But most consumers aren’t so fortunate to have that understanding.  That’s where I want to help.  The beef you buy in the grocery store or eat at your favorite restaurant either came from our farm or a farm like ours.

There are lots of different ways to raise beef cattle – natural, certified organic, grass-fed, grain-fed.  I’ll dive into the real differences between these methods later.  The good news is that all of these different methods of raising beef cattle produce a safe, nutritious product for you and your family.  All of these different ways to raise beef are responsible, sustainable and are methods that keep the animal’s health and well-being at the forefront.  Luckily, for all of us, we have great choices available to us no matter what our preferences are.

For now, I want to focus in on this really important topic – the use of growth hormones in beef.  Why are growth hormones used in the first place?  What is the end result for you as a consumer?  These are a couple of questions I am guessing you have had at one time or another.

Growth hormones, mostly estrogen, are used to replace natural hormones that are removed from calves through castration.  When male calves are born, we castrate them within the first couple of days.  The reason for this is intact bulls can get very aggressive if they are not castrated.  They can become dangerous to other members of the herd and to the people working with those animals.  By castrating them, their testosterone levels are reduced and subsequently their aggressive behaviors are also prevented.

We use small levels of FDA approved growth hormones to replace the testosterone lost through castration and to promote more efficient growth.  What I mean by more efficient growth is that the animal is able to grow and develop faster than they would without the hormone which allows us to use less resources like feed and water.

We implant the hormone, which is the size of three tiny pills, under the skin behind the ear on the animals.  This helps to stimulate the calf’s own natural hormone production.  But what does this mean for the juicy steak that you eat and love?  That’s the most important question you’re probably wondering.

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Size of the dosage of hormone implanted into each calf.

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Implanting the hormone under the skin behind the ear.

To help bring some perspective to the amount of hormones found in beef, let’s take a look at some other commonly eaten foods.  I have already mentioned that everything that grows contains hormones.  Plant foods like cabbage and soybeans contain significantly more estrogen than beef.  Soybean oil, for example, can contain as much as 900,000 nanograms of estrogen.  That’s 450,000 times more than a pound of beef regardless of whether or not the animal received an implant of a growth hormone.

The level of hormones that naturally occurs in animals is constantly fluctuating, just like in our own bodies.  You may be surprised to learn that the level of hormones found in the steak you enjoy from an animal given a growth hormone is only .2 nanograms per pound more than that of a non-implanted animal.  According to the Beef Checkoff, the average level of hormones in an animal that was implanted with a growth hormone is 1.9 nanograms per pound compared to that of a non-implanted animal which is about 1.7 nanograms per pound.  This difference of .2 nanograms is actually less than the natural fluctuation of hormones that occurs in animals.  Depending on the day or even the hour that the animal is processed, you could find higher levels of estrogen in an animal that has never been given growth hormones versus one that had.

It’s also important that you understand the strict regulations and rigorous research and testing that take place with the use of growth hormones and antibiotics. Since 1967, the Federal Meat Inspection Act has mandated that the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) test for residues of growth promoting products at the time the animal is harvested.  The FSIS conducts strict and regular testing and inspection during the slaughtering and processing phases to ensure a safe product is provided.

If there is one thing I hope you take away from this article, it is this:  We as farmers take our responsibility of providing you with safe, healthy protein very seriously.  Our livelihoods depend on the fact that we provide you with a product that is nutritious, not to mention delicious.  We feed this exact same product to our own babies.  Our first priority is to take care of our families but we also want to take the best possible care of our animals in the process.

Whether you are eating beef, pork, fish or lettuce for dinner tonight, eat with confidence, knowing that a farmer worked very hard to bring you a safe, healthy product.

Source credit:  The Beef Checkoff

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