Special Assignment: Is Your Food Safe With Hormones?

By: Sarah Carlson Email
By: Sarah Carlson Email

Posted Wednesday, November 5, 2008 --- 10:57 p.m.

Most of us can't afford to pay extra for organic, which only makes up about 2-3 percent of the supply of milk and beef.

So we talked with the experts to give you peace of mind.

And we learned what parents should really be concerned about when they make the grocery list.

"They don't use it in chicken, in poultry, in pork. They do not use the hormones in that," Registered Dietitian Tammy Fumusa said.

But hormones are part of the U-S beef supply.

Fumusa met us at the grocery store recently to arm us with the history of hormones.

In the 1970's, the FDA approved six of them - three natural and three synthetic.

These hormones are in 67-90 percent of U.S. beef.

"They need more because they want them to grow bigger. They want more meat on the cow," Fumusa said.

The bigger cow means less feed, less land, fewer resources and lower costs for you.

"Growth promotants are administered and strictly enforced for safety by the FDA," said Angie Horkan with the Beef Council. "They keep tabs on all the growth promotants that go into any animals."

Horkan says a three-ounce serving of beef from a cow with added estrogen has 0.000000003 grams of the hormone.

That's 57,000 times less than what the FDA allows.

And it's thousands of times less than what we produce in our body.

Bu, since 1989, Europe has banned the use of growth hormones because of consumer demand.

Some experts, including those from the Cancer Prevention Coalition, say there is no healthy level of added hormones.

However, Fumusa says you should be more worried about habit than hormones.

"If you're a meat eater, that's fine. I'm not asking people to be vegetarians," Fumusa said. "But with the rise of diabetes, heart disease and all we have in the US., you need to think about eating a little portion!"

Now on to milk and the controversial bovine growth hormone.

BGH is secreted naturally by cows to control how much milk they produce.

A synthetic version of BGH to increase milk production by 10-25 percent was approved for use back in 1994.

"The FDA has ruled the use of BGH is safe and there is very, very small amounts of BGH in any type of milk," said Laura Wilford, a dietitian and the director of the Wisconsin Dairy Council. "So it's safe for consumers to drink but if you want to chose a BGH free milk, it's on the shelves and you certainly can make that choice."

She did not provide any studies on how much BGH is traced to the milk your family drinks.

Several consumer organizations urge people to choose organic because we don't know enough about what even the smallest levels do to our bodies long term.

But the FDA maintains that there is no problem.

"You're taking a bigger risk with your health if you don't drink milk than if you drink certain types of milk," Wilford said.

But not everyone believes that's the case.

No scientific studies have found a definitive link between the hormones and milk and adverse health effects.

But there is a ton of speculation, mostly with women and girls.

"I think what it boils down to with milk is kids. We're looking at kids and their growth," Fumusa said. "They're growing and they need certain nutrients. Are we giving them too much by adding a lot of these hormones in our foods?"

Ten years ago, a controversial survey of 17,000 girls found that by the age of eight, 15 percent of the white girls and 48 percent of the African American girls showed signs of puberty.

That compares to 20 years ago when only one percent of eight-year-olds showed those signs.

But it may have to do more with weight. The number of overweight children and teens has grown dramatically. And early menstruation is most common among girls who are overweight.

"There is no scientific evidence that links any type of milk to early onset puberty," Wilford said. "What researchers are telling us is that it is linked to children being more overweight. And actually, drinking milk can help with children being overweight."

The nation's largest dairy processor, Dean, no longer sells milk with BGH and the top three grocery retailers in the nation - Walmart, Kroger and Costco - also pledged not to sell such milk in their stores.

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