Is That Meat Really Hormone-Free?

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Packages of ground beefOne food misconception is that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Though hard to believe, quite a few Americans believe it’s true. A study by the Innovation Center for U.S Dairy’s, found that 7% or 17 million American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. Other areas of misconception concern hormones and antibiotics.

Food product labels have a variety of phrases and wording – including “hormone-free”, “antibiotic-free”, “all natural” or “no added hormones”. Some can be true but one is not: hormone-free. Practically everything contains hormones – including vegetables. A South Dakota State University Meat Science Department study found that tofu (soy-based product) has over 19 million nanograms (ng) of estrogen in a 3 ounce (oz.) serving, pinto beans around 150,000 ng/3oz and white bread about 50,000 ng/3oz servings. These numbers actually drop significantly when you look at animal products.

  • Eggs: 94 ng/3oz
  • Milk: 5 ng/3oz
  • Beef: 0.85 ng/3oz

Hormones are natural chemicals found in living organisms (animal, plant and human) responsible for regulating functions such as reproduction, growth and metabolism. A food labeled no-added hormones means the producer did not give the calves hormone implants to make them grow quicker. Producers that do are not hurting the calves. The implants make cattle reach their finishing stage sooner, therefore requiring less feed time and lowering the resources required per pound of finished product. The FDA and USDA strictly monitors these hormone implant products and routinely monitors levels in meat. Hormone-implanted cattle have estrogen levels of 1.2 units and non-implanted beef 0.85 units.

Another area of concern is the use of antibiotics in animals. Livestock producers only use antibiotics when animals are sick, and many antibiotics require a veterinarian’s prescription. Packages with an antibiotic-free claim are misleading because all meat is antibiotic-free. Farmers are restricted by law from slaughtering animals treated with antibiotics before the withdraw period (when the antibiotic has left the animal’s system) is up. USDA meat inspectors, is sample and test meat for approved and unapproved pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides during inspections. If anything is found, that carcass is condemned and taken out of the production line.

Livestock producers work hard and care for their livestock. It a living for them and their families, and it’s not an easy job. All farmers, have challenges throughout the year including weather, pests, diseases and markets. Whenever you see a farmer, thank them for all they do and support local farmers by buying local products.