Consider the Beef Consumer
Brooke K. Thompson
Univ 211: Food for Thought
4 May 2017
I’m sure you have all seen a beef packaging in the grocery store labeled “no added hormones” or “organic”. What about the many packages that don’t read “no added hormones” or “organic”? What exactly is added to that beef that is not labeled organic or that does not state that there are no added hormones? Have beef consumers really paid it much mind? Not really, but it is something that needs to be paid attention to. Industrial meat factories have long been using hormones to increase their revenue while not really considering the consumer. They use hormones not only to increase production of animal by-products (milk, etc), but also the use hormones on the animals to bulk them up before slaughter. Although these hormones are well known about throughout the meat consumer society, the issue is often pushed to the side. However, these added hormones should not be overlooked because we are consuming them when we eat the meat of the animals they are injected into, I will specifically be talking about beef. What exactly are these hormones being injected into the cattle we eat and what risks do they bring to the consumers? Like I mentioned earlier, farmers use hormones to increase the production of animal by-products. A growth hormone by the name of rBGH is commonly used on cattle to speed up milk production. Of course there are also the hormones that make it easier for livestock to gain fat. I will primarily talk about estrogen use on cattle when talking about hormones used in fatten livestock. Imagine the beef that you buy at the grocery store to make juicy hamburgers with or the beef that your mother would buy to put in the baked spaghetti. Now imagine what hormones may have been in that beef that you consumed and what effects they could have on your body. Also, I will talk about beef in restaurants where there is no clear “no added hormone” label to let consumers know that the meat is organic.
In 1993, the FDA approved recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), “a synthetic cow hormone that spurs milk production when injected into dairy cows” (Storrs 2011). This hormone is said to have to effect on human consumers, however there seems to be a concern that manipulating growth hormones in cows may increase another hormone. This hormone is known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF) which could mimic the effects of human growth hormones in negative ways (Storrs 2011). Research has found that milk from rBGH treated cows contains up to 10 times more IGF than other milks (Storrs 2011). “Higher blood levels of IGF (regardless of what causes them) have been associated with an increased risk of breast, prostate, and other cancers in humans” (Storrs 2011). This is very alarming and definitely something that consumer society needs to be worried about with so many cows receiving this growth hormone today.
Sadly, those rBGH is not the only hormone that farmers often use on cattle. Farmers are also known to use sex hormones such as estrogen to fatten cattle (Storrs 2011). In fact, most beef you see in the market has received an implant in their ear that delivers a hormone, usually a form of estrogen (estradiol) in some combination with five other hormones; the only exception are those meats labeled “organic” (Storrs 2011). So what exactly does this mean for consumers? Well, it could mean a lot of things. Firstly, this could cause children to hit puberty at an earlier age. On average, children are entering puberty at a younger age than they did a generation or two ago (Storss 2011). Although these exact reasons are unclear, it could well be from the hormones that they are consuming through beef. A study done in 2009 found that “children who consumed the most protein from animal sources entered puberty about seven months earlier than those who consumed the least” (Storrs 2011). This is possible evidence to back the claim I made previously. However, more research is obviously needed to come to a full conclusion.
It’s easy to avoid these hormones in the grocery store as long as you keep an eye open for package labeling such as “organic” or “hormone free”, but what about at restaurants? How do you find out if your hamburger or taco has antibiotics in it without being the crazy person that asks the server ridiculous questions? Well, that’s a bit more tricky since there is sadly no labeling on the beef in restaurants. However, some restaurants are known for their hormone free meat, such as Panera Bread, Chipotle, and Noodles & Co (Minkin & Renaud, 2016). This is a good thing for those who proclaim “chipotle is life” or frequent Panera Bread and Noodles and Co. goers. But what about other restaurants that don’t make it an appoint to tell their consumers that their meat is hormone free? Well, we can most likely assume that those restaurants do, in fact, have hormones in their meat.
Overall, hormones have long been used on cattle to speed up production of by products such as milk and to fatten them up before slaughter. This ultimately puts more money in the farmer’s and meat industry’s pockets while perhaps causing not so great side effects to the beef consumers. Beef consumers need to be more cautious of these hormones and understand the possible side effects that come with ingesting these hormones when we eat the beef that they have been injected into. Although it is easy to identify hormone free meat in the grocery store by the clear labeling of “organic” or “no added hormones”, it is still slightly hard to identify what restaurants use or do not use hormones in their meat. Although there are some restaurants that make it a point to note that they use hormone free meat, the other restaurants are not very clear, so it is up to the consumer to be cautious about this. Overall, hormones in meat (beef, specifically) can be fishy and something that consumers need to be more cautious about.
Minkin, T, Renaud, B. (2016). America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants. Retrieved
Storrs, C. (2011). Hormones in Food: Should You Worry?. Retrieved from: