Hormone labels come in a variety of ways: “Raised Without Added Hormones,” “No Hormones Administered” or “No Synthetic Hormones” to name a few. When shoppers read a “No Hormones Added” label on a product, they assume that the producer has a special process to avoid using added hormones. While steroid hormones are often given to cattle being grown for beef production, the FDA does not approve of steroid hormones for growth purposes (growth hormones) in dairy cattle, veal calves, pigs or poultry. The USDA requires in the use of these labels this disclaimer: ”Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry and pork.” So while the claims on these products are correct, they can be misleading and may be sold at a premium price without a real product differentiation.
The FDA allows six anabolic steroids for beef cattle; three natural steroids (estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone), and three synthetic hormones (the estrogen compound zeranol, the androgen trenbolone acetate, and progestin melengestrol acetate). Their use is to increase the efficiency in which feed is converted to muscle. The FDA Animal and Veterinary Product and Safety site states that the “FDA requires extensive toxicological testing in animals to determine safe levels in the animal products that we eat (edible tissue).” The FDA also has tolerances for residues of new animal drugs in food, stating, “Tolerances established in this part are based upon residues of drugs in edible products of food-producing animals treated with such drug.”
In the article on The Poultry Site, Chickens Do Not Receive Growth Hormones: So Why All the Confusion?, University of Mississippi professors ask the poultry industry to do a “better job of providing factual information to consumers to combat the confusion, myths and inaccurate information that has become so prevalent regarding hormone use and chicken production.”
The University of Georgia Poultry Science Department notes, “During the past several years, some poultry producers have in their advertising campaigns emphasized that they do not use hormones. Whether this position puts the matter to rest in the mind of the public is not certain. Perhaps, such advertisements might be interpreted to imply that other producers use hormones or that this was a common practice at some time in the past.”
Back as far as 2002, a paper written by Jayson Lush and John Fox for the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics, revealed that, “At no cost, 85 percent of respondents desired mandatory labeling of beef produced with growth hormones... Estimates suggest that consumers would be willing to pay 17.0 percent and 10.6 percent higher prices for beef on average to obtain information provided via mandatory labeling about whether the beef is from cattle produced with growth hormones...” The study also goes on to say that while the USDA FSIS (the agency responsible for ensuring the truthfulness and accuracy in labeling of meat and poultry products) has labeling provisions such as no hormones administered if certain provisions are met, “These labels are primarily aimed at providing consumers with information about credence attributes.” The Misnomer of Hormone-Free Meat, Commentary by Marty Strauss, Environmental Engineer and Molecular Biologist
Research results regarding health issues related to the use of hormones in beef will continue to fuel the growing concern of consumers. The fact remains that FDA regulations have very specific instructions for proper usage for the very purpose of protecting consumers. As stated in the American Meat Institute Fact Sheet, each hormone delivery method “contains a specific, legally authorized dosage of the hormone…there is no benefit to using more – only additional costs – thus eliminating the incentive for farmers and producers to exceed permitted levels.” The question is how does this information or assurance get to the consumer?
With the growing rise of concern over hormones in meat by consumers, helping consumers understand labels can be key to consumer loyalties. Some supermarkets, like Safeway, do take a position on no hormones on their web sites stating, "We never feed, inject or otherwise administer hormones to any of our livestock. Current federal regulations prohibit the use of added hormones in pork and poultry. We cannot claim, however, that our meats contain 'no hormones,' since all animals contain naturally occurring hormones. That is what makes animals grow." Claims and Labels: How helpful? How trustworthy?, Commentary by Harriet Hentges, Food Retail Sustainability Expert
Organic continues to be a safe route for concerned beef buyers. The USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) organic seal “verifies that producers did not use antibiotics or growth hormones…” Publix GreenWise Market web site refers to their organic items as “…raised without added growth hormones or synthetic antibiotics, steroids, pesticides, or fertilizers and are all-natural with no GMOs (genetically modified organisms).”
In the 1990s, in what is called the “Beef Hormone Controversy,” the EU banned all imports of US beef treated with hormones. The European Union does not allow the use of added hormones (HGPs) in cattle production. The ban has been challenged by the US at the World Trade Organization, and there is still a debate between the US and the EU over the validity of the ban. Many contended that unregulated, black market use, if it was occurring in Europe during the ban, posed a much greater health safety risk than prudent, appropriate and regulated use.
In Australia, HGPs have been used since 1979. In a Cattle and HGPs brochure by SAFEMEAT, a partnership between the red meat and livestock industry and the state and federal governments of Australia, some of the environmental benefits to treating cattle with HGPs are “production of more beef per animal from less feed; growth rate of HGP-treated cattle is increased by 15-30%, feed conversion efficiency by 5-15%, decreasing total lifetime greenhouse gas emissions.”