The truth is that you can’t. You cannot buy beef without hormones because you cannot buy any food without hormones. Fruit, veg, meat, milk, eggs, nuts – everything we eat (besides salt) comes from a living plant or animal. And ALL living things need hormones to survive and grow, making it impossible to buy beef (or any food) without hormones.
Now, that being said, you can buy beef that has been raised without “added hormones.” Wait. What?! What exactly are these “added hormones” you speak of? And why are they used to raise beef if hormones are already naturally occurring?
Well, I’m glad you asked! Why? Because I’m a mom. And as a mom, I completely understand questioning everything, especially when it comes to providing for your fam. That being said…
“Added hormones” are, as the term suggests, added hormones.
But to be more specific, added hormones are steroids. Naturally occurring steroids such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone can be can given to cattle via small pellets called implants.
If a farmer or rancher chooses to use implants, they carefully place the implant just under the skin on the back side of the animal’s ear. Once the implant has been placed, it begins to release the steroids over time, promoting lean muscle growth.
Why use them in the first place?
Remember that lean muscle growth we just talked about? Well that happens naturally in non-implanted cattle too. However, cattle given an implant are able to convert the feed they eat into meat more quickly and efficiently.
This quick and efficient lean muscle growth translates to more lean beef using fewer resources. More lean beef raised using fewer resources translates to a meat counter featuring affordable prices and more lean beef options.
Ultimately the decision to use implants (added hormones) depends on each farmer or rancher and their individual operations. Lots of factors come into play in the decision making process. And not every farmer or rancher who raises beef chooses to use implants.
That’s great, but is the beef safe?
Yes. The steroid hormones in implants (added hormones) are metabolized, put to use growing lean beef, and are used up before the cattle go to harvest.
Furthermore, the use of implants has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since the 1950’s. Not only has it been approved for that many years, but it has also been monitored by the FDA and the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS) for that long as well.
That’s right. Added hormones go through this whole comprehensive, multifaceted approval process, which includes trials and studies and peer review by leading animal scientists and food safety experts. Then after they are approved, they are re-evaluated annually by the FDA. In addition to the annual review, testing for implant residues (one of many tests the USDA FSIS performs) is run at harvest to ensure the safety of beef.
All of this approval and oversight takes place to make sure that the implants continue to do their job and meet all animal health and food safety requirements. And if they fail to do their job and meet requirements – they are pulled out, rendering them no longer available for use.
So, what’s the difference?
Other than the administration of an implant, and possibly (probably) the price – virtually nothing. Beef from cattle given an implant AND that raised without added hormones is equally safe AND nutritious. Even the hormone levels are not statistically different.
Let’s look at three-ounce servings (because that’s the suggested serving size) of beef – one from an animal given an implant and one from an animal raised without added hormones. The serving from the animal given an implant contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen. The serving from the animal raised without added hormones has 1.3 nanograms of estrogen. That’s not a huge difference, considering that one nanogram makes up .000000000035274 of an ounce.
And next to other commonly consumed foods (and products) beef’s hormone levels look even more minuscule. For example, the same size serving of potatoes contains 225 nanograms, cabbage 2,000 nanograms, soy milk 11,250 nanograms, and one birth control pill contains a whopping 35,000 nanograms of estrogen.
That’s okay! It’s okay to be unsure. It’s okay to ask questions and weigh your options before deciding on which beef option is best for you and your family. And the good news is – the choices at the beef case are a plenty. You can find just about any type of beef you’d like to try in the meat case today and sometimes that can be confusing.
I mean, I found grain-finished (conventionally grown), grass-finished, natural, organic, and grain-fed organic beef. All of these equally safe and nutritious options were available in the meat cases of a handful of grocery stores I visited. And this list doesn’t even touch on any online shopping beef options. So you see my point – when it comes to beef, we have options. And lots of them.
If it’s beef raised without added hormones you’re looking for, you’ll want to look for beef donning labels that read “USDA Organic,” “no added hormones,” or “no hormones ever.” And you’ll want to steer clear of “natural” and “hormone-free” like verbiage. Because, while these are still safe and nutritious beef options, the term “natural” by itself is more likely to refer to the level of processing than it is anything else. And remember, no food is ever “hormone free.”
The important thing to keep in mind.
ALL beef is equally safe and nutritious. There really is no wrong choice because all beef is safe, packs a nutritional punch like no other food, and let’s not forget how dang delicious it is. No. Wrong. Choice.
The other important thing to keep in mind is that I am here. From one mother to another, I understand the concerns about doing what’s best for your family, especially when it comes to fueling them with safe and nutritious foods. So, I am here and happy to help if you have questions about beef. And if I can’t answer because I don’t know the answer, I will point you in the direction of someone who does. 😉