Using hormones for growth promotion in beef cattle sometimes gets a bad rap. Certain people try to conjure up this image of cattle pumped full of toxic steroids that are then ground into hamburger to cause a host of problems to unsuspecting humans. While this makes a fascinating premise for a novel, the reality is that beef from hormone implanted cattle is just as safe to eat as beef from cattle that were not given hormones. However, a novel could be written about how using hormones to raise beef can promote sustainability of our natural resources.
Hormones used for growth promotion in the U.S. are all approved by the Food and Drug Administration after years of rigorous testing. This isn’t a new technology, they have been used safely for decades now. The hormones used are analogs of naturally occurring hormones, meaning they are chemically similar and function in the same manner. They are administered by placing them under the skin in the back of the animal’s ear.
The most common complaint leveled against using hormones for growth promotion in beef cattle is they raise the level of estrogen in the meat. While this is true, it’s a matter of amount. A serving of beef from cattle implanted with a hormone will have 2 nanograms of estrogen, while non-implanted cattle will have 1.4 nanograms of estrogen. In comparison, a single chicken egg has over 1000 times the amount of estrogen as a serving of beef from implanted cattle. Vegetables, like cabbage, are even more pronounced. If food was causing human health effects due to its hormone content (which is a dubious theory at best), wouldn’t cabbage cause a far greater effect than beef?
With our safety concerns alleviated, we can focus on how using hormone implants in beef cattle is critical to the sustainability of our environment. Since an implant makes cattle more efficient, less resources are used to produce the protein that our world demands. As more people worldwide enter the middle class, they want more animal protein in their diets. This will happen regardless of whatever pleading or threatening is attempted by Western ideologues. Therefore it is our duty as producers of animal protein to make sure this protein is grown in a responsible manner that conserves our natural resources, as well as preserves our native animal and plant life. In addition to many other practices, hormone implants play a role in fulfilling that duty.
A flyer I read a few weeks ago on the implant Ralgro (which is the one pictured above) illustrates this point. A single wheel contains 24 implants. The flyer stated by using one wheel, 0.6 acres of cropland, 3.57 acres of pasture, 3684 pounds of feed, and 22,000 gallons of water would be saved. This leaves more room for deer and antelope to co-graze with cattle in pastures, more water for trout to swim in, and more cropland to be developed into posh shopping malls (jk, but really, urban impacts on the environment can be substantial).
We know that the increased demand for animal protein is real. By embracing technology we can have the best of both worlds–meet the demand and keep our environment healthy. With their proven tract record for safety, hormones used for growth promotion are an important technology that will give us the future we want.