Let’s talk about hormones. A few years ago I put together a little demonstration for moms. I used M & M’s for the purpose of discussing the added use of hormones in cattle. The image (below) shows the comparison in the levels of the hormone estrogen found in different foods we eat. Many light bulbs went on and I overheard things like:
- “Who put the hormones in my cabbage?”
- “I thought for sure the full jar was going to be one with the beef label!”
- “Oh yeah, I remember learning about hormones in biology class. How do they work again?”
This important shift in the conversation from one of doubt and fear to trust and transparency is the reason I am involved in sharing the story of what Steve and I do on our farms. Concerns about how food is grown and the increased use of food labels “free of this” or “no added that” make grocery trips more stressful than they should be. The label “hormone free” has created unnecessary fear and a lot of misunderstanding.
Fortunately, the past thirty-seven years of living as a cattle and row crop farmer, have given me the opportunity to learn the terminology, utilize the science-based research and understand the newer technologies farmers use such as added hormones in beef cattle. In this blog post I will share what I have learned about how hormones work and why farmers like Steve and I use added hormones in our cattle.
Hormones naturally occur in all living things. Why? Dr. Terry Etherton, distinguished professor from Penn State, writes in his blog Hormones, Hormones, Hormones:
“A hormone is a substance that sets in motion a set of metabolic events that would otherwise lie dormant. All of the hormones together form a communication network in the body that is called the endocrine system. Another way of viewing the endocrine system is to imagine at any given moment the circulatory system (the blood) of animals and humans is literally packed with thousands of these chemical messengers moving about the body sort of like an urban freeway on a late Friday afternoon.”
Dr. Etherton continues to write, “Hormones act as ‘messengers,’ and are carried by the bloodstream to different cells in the body, which interpret these messages and act on them. Without hormones and the endocrine system, humans and animals would not survive.” We need hormones to live!
Hormones are not limited to humans and animals. Plants have an estrogen-like compound called phytoestrogens. As explained in an article from Tulane University, “In general, phytoestrogens are weaker than the natural estrogen hormones (such as estradiol) found in humans and animals or the very potent synthetic estrogens used in birth control pills and other drugs.” Plants have additional hormones that are responsible for all sorts of functions like helping the plants sense light, forming lateral roots, and triggering flower development and germination, just to name a few.
Plants, animals and humans need hormones to exist. Hormones naturally exist. They have an important purpose. Understanding the role hormones play in our human development and the foods we eat can help us understand why farmers like Steve and I would use an added hormone for beef production. We use an added hormone on the steers in our feedlot because it:
A) Helps the animal convert feed to protein more efficiently.
B) Is safe for the animal and human consumption.
C) Is safe for the environment.
You can learn more about all growth promotants used in cattle and the impact those promotants have on safety and sustainability here.
The safety of consuming beef with added hormones has to remain front and center of our discussion. Dr. Jude Capper explains in her blog post about hormones:
“Yes, an 8-oz steak from a steer given a hormone implant contains more estrogen than a steak from a non-implanted animal. 42% more estrogen in fact. That’s undeniable. Yet the amount of estrogen in the steak from the implanted animal is minuscule: 5.1 nanograms. One nanogram (one-billionth of a gram or one-25-billionth of an ounce) is roughly equivalent to one blade of grass on a football field.
By contrast, one birth-control pill, taken daily by over 100 million women worldwide, contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. That’s equivalent of eating 3,431 lbs of beef from a hormone-implanted animal, every single day. To put it another way, it’s the annual beef consumption of 59 adults. Doesn’t that put it into perspective?”
Are there hormones in your cabbage? Yes, and there are hormones in every living thing we eat. Our ability to help cattle convert grass and grain to protein using less resources while producing a wholesome, tasty food for people to enjoy is dependent on science-based research. Beef producers like Steve and I count on quality research to help us continually seek ways to improve our impact on the environment while maintaining the highest levels of care for our animals and the safety of the beef we produce.
Hormones are truly a gift from God in helping plants, animals and people thrive. Understanding how hormones work has helped farmers partner with nature to produce a healthy, sustainable food for people to enjoy. When you serve beef to your family you can be confident they are receiving ten essential nutrients to help them thrive. Beef does give you ZIP!