[Republished with the kind permission of the author, Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.]
American Beef: Why is it Banned in Europe?
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
HORMONES IN MEAT
Most U. S. beef cattle are implanted with synthetic hormones in
feedlots prior to slaughter. On January 1, 1989 the European
Economic Community (EEC) placed a ban on hormone-treated U. S. meat,
preventing U. S. meat products from being sold in any European
nations. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has
challenged the ban and accused the EEC of unfair trade practices,
but the action of European governments raises some important
questions about American meat.
Q. Why did the Europeans (EEC) place a ban on hormone-raised meat?
A. The European Economic Community banned hormone-raised meat
because of questions on the dangers of meat that has been treated
with synthetic sex hormones. European consumers pressured the EEC to
take this action to protect their health.
More than a decade ago, Roy Hertz, then director of endocrinology at
the National Cancer Institute and a leading authority on hormonal
cancers, warned of the carcinogenic risks of estrogenic additives
which can cause imbalances and increases in natural hormone levels.
Hertz warned against the uncontrolled use of these potent
carcinogens. No dietary levels of hormones are safe and a dime-sized
piece of meat contains-billions of millions of molecules.
Breast cancer has been raised as a primary concern in light of
associations between breast cancer and oral contraceptives, whose
estrogen dosage is known and controlled. The risk of breast and
other cancers only increases with the uncontrolled use of hormones
Q. During the seven years after the EEC ban on hormone-raised meat,
the U.S. beef industry has continued to use sex hormones in meat.
A. Hormones can be used to stimulate growth in cattle. Because
farmers are paid based on the weight of the animals they sell for
slaughter, the use of hormones has been seen as a way to boost
Q. Which hormones are used on feedlots?
A. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was one of the first hormones used to
fatten feedlots. It was banned in 1979 after forty years of evidence
that DES was cancer-causing. In its place, sex hormones, such as
estradiol and progestins (synthetic forms of the naturally occurring
hormone progesterone) have been implanted to virtually all feedlot
cattle. The least hazardous way to administer hormones to animals is
through an implant near the animals ear. Unfortunately, many farmers
inject hormones directly into the muscle tissue that will be later
used to make meat products. The only USDA-imposed requirement is
that residue levels in meat must be less than one percent of the
daily hormone production of children. This requirement is
unenforceable because there is no USDA testing for hormone residues
in meat. Furthermore, hormonal residues are not practically
differentiable from natural hormones created by the cow's body. As a
result, the use of hormones to boost meat production is completely
Q. What kind of policies should be in place in the U.S. to address
A. Hormonal and other carcinogenic additives (pesticides from food
fed to animals, some antibiotics, etc.) should be banned
immediately, as should be all additives that are not proven
effective and safe. Additive use and residue levels in animal
products, including milk and eggs, should be subject to explicit
labeling requirements. Until then, state initiatives that establish
hormone-free certification for European shipments, should be
applauded and extended domestically.
Q. What can consumers do to protect themselves?
A. Consumers can boycott chemical treated meat in favor of organic
meat and insist on the fight to know which additives have been used
and what residues might exist. Consumers should speak with their
butchers or grocers about hormone-free meat product availability.
Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., Chairman
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
2121 W. Taylor Street, M/C 922
Chicago, IL 60612