Hormones are naturally present in humans and animals for growth, development, and reproduction. But many animals raised for meat and dairy production are being given additional hormones, natural and synthetic, to speed up the growth process and increase milk production.
The USDA and FDA have deemed many hormones safe, such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which is used in meat and dairy production. However, there are significant concerns that residues of hormones found in meat and dairy products may disrupt human hormone balance and have a negative effect on human health, causing cancer, developmental and reproductive issues, and the early onset of puberty in girls.
Dairy cows are often injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), to increase milk production. The FDA approved the hormone saying the amount present in milk is small and it is broken down by the digestive tract. This hormone also raises levels of Insulin Growth Factor-1 in cows, which is linked to tumor growth in humans, but whether there is enough IGF-1 in milk to affect human health is disputed.
Although there is not yet conclusive evidence on the effects of hormone use in dairy production, the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia have all banned the use of growth hormone rBGH due to animal and human health concerns. Starbucks, Wal-Mart and other large retailers, in response to consumer demand, are now selling only rBGH-free milk.
Cows that have been treated with rBGH are more susceptible to mastitis, an udder infection, due to increased milk production. The infection must be treated with antibiotics, contributing the real and growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Read more about Antibiotics in Food Production.
Hormones present in cow manure also lead to environmental issues as they easily enter water sources, negatively affecting aquatic ecosystems.
Hormone Use in Beef
The USDA allows for hormone use in beef production, so look for the following labels:
Credible and Verified:
Credible (but not verified):
Hormones Use in Dairy
The FDA approved the use of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), or recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), a genetically engineered hormone developed by Monsanto that increases milk production in dairy cows. For rBGH-free milk, look for these labels:
Hormone Use in Poultry
The USDA prohibits the use of all hormones in the raising of poultry in the United States. So, poultry labeled with "no hormones administered" or other, similar hormone claims is no different than poultry without.
Hormone Use in Pork
Hogs raised in the United States cannot be given any hormones due to regulations by the USDA. All pork, with or without a label such as "no hormones administered," has not been fed hormones in its lifetime.