Farm & Food Talk – Hormones

March 20, 2019

What will food labels tell me about the hormones used in the meat I buy?

Hormones in animals occur naturally, even when raised organically. All animal products contain some hormones.

Consumers looking for milk and beef raised without the benefit of supplemental hormones need only to look at their food labels. Conventional dairy products are readily available free from rbST or BGH, if consumers choose. And although most beef is considered natural, some companies have gone to the extra step of certifying and labeling natural to mean “no added hormones.” You don’t have to buy organic milk or beef to get a product raised without supplemental hormones.

Many marketers and “experts” often quote misleading information about hormone use in farm animals in the U.S. that creates confusion for consumers. For example, poultry and pork are never given growth hormones yet “natural” and sometimes organic products are often marketed “not grown with hormones.” This can be misleading because their conventional product counterparts also were not grown with supplemental hormones.

Which animals use growth hormones?

Pork: No hormones are used to promote the growth of pigs in the U.S. Rather, hormones can be given to assist sows during birth. Like humans, they receive Oxytocin to aid the sow during labor.

Poultry: No hormones are used to promote the growth of poultry in the U.S.

Beef: Supplemental hormones are used in about 95 percent of cattle production in the U.S. to synchronize cow reproductive cycles, control temperament and promote growth. In most cases, the hormones in the implant are completely used up by the time the animal is ready for harvest.

Dairy: Hormones are used in about 15 percent of dairy cows in the U.S. to increase milk production.

What’s the difference between naturally-occurring hormones and synthetic hormones?

Some of the approved drugs are naturally produced throughout life in people and animals, such as estradiol (estrogen), progesterone, and testosterone. These natural hormones are necessary for normal development, growth, and reproduction.

People are not at risk from eating food from animals treated with these drugs because the amount of additional hormone following drug treatment is very small compared with the amount of natural hormones that are normally found in the meat of untreated animals and that are naturally produced in the human body.

Some of the approved drugs are synthetic versions of the natural hormones, such as trenbolone acetate and zeranol. Just like the natural hormone implants, before FDA approved these drugs, FDA required information and/or toxicological testing in laboratory animals to determine safe levels in the animal products that we eat (edible tissues).

U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance