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The Drug Store in American Meat

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's CAFOs vs. Free Range page, Health Issues page and our Food Safety Research Center page.

Food consumers seldom hear about the drugs oestradiol-17, zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate and the names are certainly not on meat labels. But those synthetic growth hormones are central to U.S. meat production, especially beef, and the reason Europe has banned a lot of U.S. meat since 1989.

Zeranol, widely used as a growth promoter in the U.S. beef industry, is known for its "ability to stimulate growth and proliferation of human breast tumor cells" like the "known carcinogen diethylstilbestrol (DES)," says the Breast Cancer Fund, a group dedicated to identifying and eliminating environmental causes of breast cancer.  Zeranol may "play a critical role in mammary tumorigenesis" and "be a risk factor for breast cancer," agrees a recent paper from the College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

Why is such a drug, that requires "Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment" for use- "laboratory coat, gloves, safety glasses and mask"-routinely used in U.S. meat production and not even labeled?

Melengestrol acetate, a synthetic progestin put in feed, is 30 times as active as natural progesterone, says the European Commission (EC) and trenbolone acetate, a synthetic androgen, is several times more active than testosterone. Trenbolone acetate is administered as ear implants commonly seen at livestock operations. Operators say the implants and the ears are removed from the human food supply at the slaughterhouse. Do they become feed for other animals?

Why does the European Commission ban meat made with such chemicals?  "There is an association between steroid hormones and certain cancers and an indication that meat consumption is possibly associated with increased risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer," says the EC's Committee on Veterinary Measures. "The highest rates of breast cancer are observed in North America, where hormone-treated meat consumption is highest in the world," it says, adding that the same statistics apply to prostate cancer. 


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