Is Hormone-Free Meat Better? Here’s What Science Say

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Hormones are chemicals that carry messages to body tissues and organs by being secreted directly into the blood. An absolutely vital aspect of your health and well-being, hormones play a role in regulating some of your body’s most important functions. These include things like your growth and development, homeostasis, response to stress, injury, and environmental factors, energy level, and reproduction.

It might surprise you to find out that it is common practice in the agricultural industry to supplement animals with hormones. On top of that, antibiotics are widely used both to encourage growth and treat illness.

Does ingesting meat with hormones and antibiotics impact the health of humans, or is it perfectly safe?

Let’s take a look at the case for hormone-free meat and antibiotic-free meat.

What Is Hormone Free Meat?

When you are at the grocery store picking out your meat for this week’s meals, you’ve probably noticed the use of terms like “hormone-free” on labels. What exactly does this mean, though?

In the last decade or so, consumers have been increasingly aware of the number of synthetic chemicals in modern food products. There has understandably been a movement to produce and purchase foods that don’t have excess hormones and chemicals. People are concerned that there could be health issues related to the presence of these ingredients.

There are a number of things that complicate the question of whether or not these foods are safe. One is the fact that many of the safety studies conducted surrounding these issues are done by or supported by the producing company.

A number of meat producers have chosen to use more natural processes in order to provide healthier food options to their customers. The USDA regulates the meat and poultry industry. There are therefore rules about the wording farms can use regarding hormones and chemicals in production.

For pork and poultry, hormones aren’t allowed by the USDA. This means that companies can only put “no hormones added” on their product labels if they also state that “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

For beef products, companies can use the term “no hormones administered.” This has to be approved by documenting the fact that hormones haven’t been used while raising the cows.

For red meat and poultry, companies can use the term” no antibiotics added.” They can only do this if they are able to document that they didn’t use antibiotics in raising the animals.

You can find hormone-free meat at places like

How Are Hormones Used in Food Production?

The dairy and meat industries have used hormones for decades. The most common hormones used are testosterone and estrogens. This is generally done by implanting a hormone pellet in the ear of a young cow, which then releases hormones throughout the life of the animal.

One of the reasons that hormones are used in raising livestock is because it causes them to gain weight faster. This means that each cow produces more meat which leads to more profits.

A number of steroid hormone drugs have been approved by the FDA for use in sheep and cattle since the 1950s. Some of these hormones are naturally occurring and others are synthetic.

How Are Antibiotics Used in Food Production?

You might be aware that taking antibiotics when you have a sickness can wreak havoc on your healthy gut bacteria. For this and other reasons, consumers are increasingly demanding food products that are raised without antibiotics.

The reason antibiotics are used in food production is to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics can help to stop the growth of or kill harmful bacteria.

Farm animals like cows, poultry, and pigs have been giving antibiotics since the 1940s. This is to help prevent illness from spreading or to treat infections.

Animal feed also has low doses of antibiotics as a growth promotion tool. This means that more milk or meat can be produced in a shorter amount of time.

Reproductive rates also might be increased and animal death rates decreased by using these low doses of antibiotics. For all of these reasons, using antibiotics in agriculture has become a widespread practice. In fact, food-producing animals account for 80% of all of the antibiotics sold in the US in 2011.

What Are the Risks of Eating Meat With Hormones?

The first time that concerns were raised about cows injected with estrogen was in regards to a compound known as diethylstilbestrol (DES). During the 1950s and 1960s, pretty much all beef cattle were treated with this chemical. DES was also used for medicinal purposes, primarily to prevent miscarriages.

It was discovered, however, that the daughters of the women who received DES had an increased risk of vaginal cancer. After ranchers protested the use of DES, it was phased out by the 1970s in both agriculture and medicine.

There are also concerns about the presence of synthetic estrogens in livestock, as it is known that higher lifetime exposure to estrogen increases the risk of breast cancer.

Dairy cows are often given recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which is used to increase milk production. There is a lot of controversy over whether or not this growth hormone is safe. Some claim that it might increase other chemicals in the body that are thought to cause cancer.

There is also concern that meat treated with hormones can contribute to early puberty in children.

According to experts and researchers, it is very difficult to research the effects of hormones in meat. This is because they are naturally occurring in both the meat we eat and in our bodies. On top of that, the effects of eating hormone-treated meat might not show up right away, potentially taking years to manifest into an issue.

What Are the Risks of Eating Meat With Antibiotics?

Farmers and ranchers often give low doses of antibiotics to their livestock in their daily. This actually isn’t to help prevent them from getting sick. The main reason for this practice is to help them gain weight.

There are a lot of researchers and doctors that believe that this practice poses a serious danger to our health. This is because they believe that it is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In 1999, 11,000 people experienced intestinal illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The FDA attributed this to the use of antibiotics in chickens.

Overusing antibiotics is thought to be dangerous is because they become less effective for both animals and humans over time. Animals will develop a resistance to antibiotics when they are frequently exposed to them. This means that the medicine won’t be as effective at killing bacteria that are harmful.

Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics can be passed to humans from food-producing animals. This can happen if:

  • Meat from an animal that is carrying resistant bacteria is not cooked or handled properly
  • You consume food that has been treated with fertilizers containing the manure of an animal with resistant bacteria

Once a human has the resistant bacteria, it can spread between individuals and also stay in the gut. Resistant bacteria can lead to:

  • Infections that wouldn’t have occurred without the resistant bacteria
  • Higher chances that infection treatments will fail and difficulty in treating infections
  • Infections with increased severity which can include diarrhea and vomiting

Infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be serious and even lead to death.

The Benefits of Hormone Free Meat and Antibiotic Free Meat

There are a number of pros of hormone-free meat and antibiotic-free meat that make it worth your consideration.

One reason to buy hormone and antibiotic-free meat is for the health of the animal. In order to grow to a healthy size, animals need space and time. However, with hormones and antibiotics, producers get away with giving the animals less space. It also forces their bodies to grow more quickly than they would naturally.

Animals are more likely to develop an illness or a disease when weight gain is forced in this way.

Hormone-free meat is also, in general, better tasting than traditional agricultural meat products. This is because hormone-free, grass-fed animals develop leaner, healthier muscles than their counterparts.

Lastly, choosing hormone and antibiotic-free meat can help you rest easy when it comes to potential health problems.

There is a major issue when it comes to research on the effects of these medicines and chemicals. This is that studies are often conducted by the agricultural companies themselves. As you might imagine, they are motivated to be able to continue practices that increase their profit margin.

Is It Worth Prioritizing Buying Hormone Free Meat?

The topic of whether or not purchasing hormone-free meat and antibiotic-free meat is worth it is a controversial one. That being said, it isn’t necessarily wise to trust the studies conducted by big agricultural producers who are motivated to prove that these practices aren’t harmful.

It can be overwhelming to sift through the data and research on topics like this. However, it can be well worth it to protect your health and the health of your family.

Did you find this article on hormone-free meat interesting? If so, be sure to check out the rest of our blog for everything you could ever need to know about the world of food!

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