When we hear the word “hormones” we immediately think of pimples, mood swings and menopause! Growth hormones create a picture of oversized cows and early puberty in kids. Needless to say, all negative things – so we definitely don’t want them anywhere near our food!
Which foods usually contain hormones?
In the last couple of years hormones in food are being blamed for every disease and obese person out there but in all honesty all foods contain hormones. Hormones control the growth of all plants and animals. So, we all are eating some form of hormones in a various amounts every day. For example, phytohormones occur in plants, naturally – “phyto” means “vegetable” in Greek. Cattle consume these plants, so the hormones can show up in small amounts but will not really affect the animal.
Beef, milk, eggs, soybeans, cabbage, peas and ice cream – even beer made from hops contains hormones. According to Food Facts one would have to drink 4.28 tons of beer or 15g soybean oil every day, to consume enough hormones to influence the human body.
Hormone compounds have also been found in water, soil, cosmetics, cleaning products and food packaging.
Why do they add these hormones?
There are 4 types of hormones used in animal production. Estradiol and progesterone occur naturally and then there are 2 synthetic hormones (trenbolone acetate and zeranol). Anabolic steroids are implanted under the skin of animals or injected into them. These hormones are used in animal production to improve the conversion of feed energy to lean protein. In other words, the animals grow quicker but remain healthy and strong. This takes place over a short period of time while the animals are on a feedlot to fatten up (bodybuilders might understand this phase best). The added hormones are still lower compared to our own natural levels. This means that meat is nutritious and affordable thanks to the help from the hormones. Food Facts claims that these hormones ensure that South African abattoir meat has a low fat content. Some even believe that with South Africa’s harsh farming conditions it is essential to use all methods to maximise the efficiency of our agricultural industry. This practise has been used in South Africa for decades and is considered completely safe for the animals and the final consumer, if used as recommended.
As for milk, cows produce bovine somatotropin (BST), a hormone that supports milk production. There’s a synthetic drug, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), that farmers inject dairy cows with to increase their milk production. This is legal in South Africa but banned in Canada, Japan, Australia and the European Union. Clover believes that raw milk should not contain any added hormones or traces of antibiotics says Anneke Smalman, their senior liaison officer. The company does more than 60 tests on their milk, to ensure the milk only contains the balanced trace amounts that are naturally occurring in grass fed cows – and safe for their customers to consume.
Can anybody just use hormones freely? How is it regulated?
The Department of Agriculture controls the hormone usage in red meat production in South Africa and making the products and usage levels known. This makes the monitoring of residues possible – compared to Europe where all hormone usage is illegal and probably unmonitored. South African legislations set the legal limits lower than is required internationally. These limits are also regarded to be lower than that of “no observable effect” limits that have been established for now. The international norms of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint Expert Committee for Food Additives (JECFA) are followed by The Farm Feeds, Fertilizers, Agricultural Remedies and Stock Remedies Act 36 of 1947 and its regulations as by Food Facts. They also state the public can rest assured that South Africa’s meat products are safe to eat with this legislation in place.
What to look out for when grocery shopping?
Buy products stating that there are no hormones administrated or confirm with your butcher that the meats are organic and have not been treated with hormones. Processed food can often contain synthetic hormones and should be avoided. Dairy products should claim rBST free on the packaging.
Xenoestrogen is a hormone that imitates oestrogen and are found in plastic and should be avoided as far as possible for freezing food or heating purposes. Rinse all fruits and vegetables from any fertilizers or chemical sprays that might contain xenoestrogens. Use natural products on your own home-grown veggie garden.
It is safe to say with mindful shopping, some new words added to your vocabulary and the legislation that is in place, it is safe for the whole family to consume all unprocessed foods in moderation.