A Ban On Hormonal Meat Is 30 Years Overdue

Based on the scientific literature, besides World Health Organization reports, there is explicit evidence that the use of sex hormones to increase meat production poses serious dangers to consumers.
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On January 29, 2010, with three other scientific experts, I filed a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Petition seeking an urgent ban on hormonal meat, as it poses unrecognized risks of hormonal cancers.

The Petition requested the FDA to take the following action:

• Require producers of hormonal meat to label it with an explicit warning such as "produced with the use of sex hormones, and poses increased risks of breast, prostate, and testis cancers."

• Prohibit the routine implantation of sex hormone pellets under the ear skin of cattle on entry into feedlots 100 days prior to slaughter. The object of this is to increase meat production by about 50 pounds per animal, and profitability by about 10 percent.

• Ban hormonal meat.

The hormones in past and current use include the natural: testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone; and the synthetic: trenbolone, zeranol, and melengesterol.

Based on the scientific literature, besides World Health Organization (WHO) reports, there is explicit evidence that the use of sex hormones to increase meat production poses serious dangers to consumers. Of particular concern are the increased risks of hormonal cancers since 1975: breast by 23 percent, prostate by 60 percent, and testes by 60 percent. For these reasons, the Petition urged the FDA to take the following actions, now decades overdue:

• Recognize that hormonal meat poses "imminent hazards" to the total U.S. population.

• Take prompt, and decades overdue, regulatory action to eliminate the use of sex hormones in meat production.

Some three decades ago, Dr. Roy Hertz, then Director of Endocrinology of the National Cancer Institute and world authority on breast and other hormonal cancers, warned of cancer risks due to the use of estrogenic cattle implants, particularly for the breast. Dr. Hertz emphasized that these implants increase normal hormonal levels, and that such imbalance cause reproductive cancers. Hertz also warned of the essentially uncontrolled and unregulated use of these extremely potent biological agents, no levels of which can be regarded as safe. These warnings are even more apt today, particularly in view of the FDA's longstanding and reckless failure to ban hormonal meat.

The misleading assurances since 1979, by the FDA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on the safety of hormonal meat remains unchanged. Of further concern is longstanding concerns on conflicts of interest in senior agency personnel and their consultants.

As clearly evidenced in a series of General Accounting Office investigations and Congressional hearings, the USDA and FDA have failed to take any regulatory action to protect the public from the dangers of hormonal meat. A 1986 report, "Human Food Safety and Regulation of Animal Drugs," unanimously approved by the House Committee on Government Operations, concluded that the "FDA has consistently disregarded its responsibility -- has repeatedly put what it perceives are interests of verterinarians and the livestock industry ahead of its legal obligation to protect consumers -- jeopardizing the health and safety of consumers meat, milk, and poultry." In response to questions on hormonal meat raised in February 1996 by the European Commission, the USDA responded with assurances that less than 0.25 percent of animals tested annually proved positive for "residue violations." These criticisms remain equally appropriate today. In fact, meat is still not monitored for sex hormone levels by the USDA or FDA.

Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
Professor emeritus Environmental & Occupational Medicine
University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health
Chairman, Cancer Prevention Coalition
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Nicholas Ashford, Ph.D., J.D.
Professor of Technology and Policy
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ronnie Cummins
Executive Director
Organic Consumers Association

Quentin D. Young, M.D.
Health & Medicine Policy Research Group
Past President, American Public Health Association