Buzz Words: "No Hormones, No Steroids"

Unless you know where it's coming from, you should assume the meat contains some sort of growth drug.

Posted on Jun 06, 2021 by Jack McCann
Tags: BuzzWords newsletter

Let’s talk about the “No Hormone” and “No Steroid” labels. Most consumers don’t want artificial drugs in their food and look for labels like “raised without added hormones or steroids” - but are you getting anything for that premium?

Why would a farmer use hormones or steroids?

When we started our hobby farm, our neighbor had a small beef feedlot. Although we held pretty opposite views on farming, we had a good relationship and learned a lot from each other.

One thing I learned from him is that their farm made about $25 extra per steer when using a synthetic estrogen implant. That $25 is a big deal for a farmer. But for us as consumers, we’re saving less than 3 cents per pound by eating meat fed chemicals implicated in causing cancer.

Worth it?

Beef or lamb is possibly worth seeking out a “no hormones, no steroids” label, but there is a catch.

Not worth it

  • chicken
  • pork
  • turkey

These products that says “no hormones or steroids” are NOT worth it. Using hormones or steroids in these meats is illegal so all of them are always hormone and steroid free.

Don’t waste your money thinking these conventionally raised birds or hogs are somehow healthier.

What's the Catch?

If you’re buying in the grocery or even online, that almost always = big agriculture. The big companies know consumers want to avoid hormones and steroids, so they have developed other widely used classes of growth drugs. For example: until recently, A large percentage of chicken and too much pork and turkey was given a feed-additive growth drug made from highly toxic arsenic, which lingers in the meat AND notably increased arsenic poisoning in humans.

For 70 years, the pharmaceutical industry told us that drug was safe. However, once the arsenic-tainted meat became public knowledge, they quickly agreed to stop selling it. They then lobbied the government to minimize the warnings on the public advisories. Somehow convincing the FDA to remove words like "Arsenic" and "Cautionary" in a press release and to tone down the language on the FAQ page around the dangers of arsenic laced feed.

Who knows what has replaced those drugs?

The original data that triggered the investigation was from Minnesota

The chart below shows a 2006 Minnesota study that was used to begin the lobbying efforts to remove arsenic based feed. The sample sizes used were small, just 5 samples per entry. The presence of arsenic doesn't necessarily mean those brands added arsenic to the feed at the time, if anything after researching more detailed studies, it seems to show the Kadejan didn't feed these birds arsenic, but just had high levels in their water or contamination in their conventional feed.

What about pork, beef and turkey?

For pork, beef, and turkey, the main growth drug is called ractopamine. It’s a beta-adrenergic drug. It acts on the body like adrenaline (which you don’t want to be eating). Meat with drugs like this are labeled as hormone and steroid free. Developed in Minnesota, ractopamine is banned in almost every other country due to health concerns.

Unless that meat is certified organic or from a farm which explicitly bans any growth drugs (like us), you need to assume the meat contains some sort of growth drug. Even natural food stores generally allow the use of ractopamine and other growth drugs. I’ve done my homework and personally called several brands sold in the local co-ops; they also allow the use of this growth drug in their products (especially in deli meats). The tide is just starting to turn on this specific drug, but you can be sure a new unlabeled “not hormone or steroid” drug is already in the works.

What to Do?

  • In the grocery, seek out packages that sayRaised Without any Growth Promotants.
  • Ask your grocer if they have formal audited standards regarding the use of non-labeled growth drugs.
  • If they do, encourage them to publicly post these standards so consumers know what they are buying.

Some other reading

Comments (4)

  1. Ernesto Palestino:
    Jun 16, 2021 at 08:40 AM

    Thanks for the article. Very informative and clearly explained. I hope more people get to read and understand the real stories.

  2. Emily Niswanger:
    Nov 28, 2021 at 12:40 PM

    Great article! So ractopamine is still legal to use in the US and there's no way to know if your meat has been raised with it since it's not disclosed on the package, correct?

  3. Jack McCann:
    Nov 28, 2021 at 02:45 PM

    That is accurate. Its use is being reduced due to international bans which are impacting domestic production. Export is such a huge part of US agriculture, so their rules have an impact here.

    Although it isn't 100%, I personally assume any grocery or restaurant beef/pork/turkey has used it unless it is certified organic or the label explicitly says that no growth promotants of any sort are used (just saying no hormones or steroids doesn't mean anything since comparably few use those anymore). In the midwest, we are the center of large scale meat production and this growth drug was invented here, so buying local isn't really a helpful way to avoid these chemicals.

    At TC Farm, we don't make label claims on our packages, but instead we publicly display our affidavits under our standards page so there is more transparency than a label would allow. (You can read those under the "about" section of our website.)

  4. Emily Niswanger:
    Dec 11, 2021 at 12:50 PM

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply! I'm a dietitian so knowing this information and passing it onto clients is so helpful!

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