Dr. Janeal Yancey
Dr. Janeal Yancey

I’ve been writing a series of posts about food labeling. My previous posts have been about labels that involve the whole system of raising animals, like Organic, Naturally-raised or Grass-fed. Some labels are more specific and address one particular technology used for raising animals like hormones or antibiotics. Today I’m going to address the labels concerning hormones in meat.

First let me address “Hormone Free”

A big joke in the livestock industry is when we see a food, especially meat milk or eggs, advertised as “Hormone Free.”

All animals have hormones and need them to grow and produce meat, milk, eggs, babies, or whatever. All food has hormones. Nothing can actually be ‘hormone-free.’ Saying that beef is “hormone free” is about as pointless as talking about a boneless chicken ranch (you know, all the chickens just lay there.)

But, we all know that they really mean that the animals were raised without the use of added hormones.

Technically, you cannot label a meat product as hormone free. You see it on signs and menus, but it shouldn’t be on a label.

You CAN label a meat product as “Raised without hormones” to let the consumer know that no extra hormones were administered to the animal. Now, that means different things depending on which species the label is on.

What does that mean for Pork and Poultry?

In the US, it is against federal regulations to use hormones to raise pork and poultry.

That’s right, no pork or poultry in the US is raised with hormones (other than the ones they make in their own bodies).

But you see it on pork and poultry labels? Yep, meat companies are allowed to label their pork and poultry with a “No hormones administered” label.

All pork and poultry in the US is eligible for the label. When they choose to use that label, they have to also write that “Federal Regulations prohibit the use of hormones in pork/ poultry.”

So, what about beef?

In beef, it is legal to administer hormones to the cattle. They are similar to the hormones the cattle produce naturally and they allow them to grow larger, leaner, and more efficiently. They help the cattle grow more beef using fewer natural resources.

These hormones are actually administered in what we call an ‘Implant’ in their ear, not usually fed to them. There are several different options available, and they are usually applied in the feedlot or finishing phase of the animal’s life (the last few months) before harvest.

Just like anything given to the cattle, the FDA and USDA have rules and regulations that the farmers must follow concerning the implants. These rules will involve how long they can be administered and how long before harvest.

Back to the label. When the implants are not used, the beef company may say so on the label. 

Very often the ‘raised without the use of hormones’ label will accompany another claim like Natural, Grass-fed, or Organic.

How much does it really matter?  

When beef raised without hormones was compared to that from cattle that was given hormones, the level of hormones in the beef was slightly different. In an 8-oz steak, the amount of estrogen found in steak from the implanted steer was 5.1 nanograms and that found in a non-implanted calf was 3.5 nanograms.

How big is a nanogram? One nanogram is one billionth of a gram. That 8 oz steak is a little over 226 grams.
This has been an awfully long post to answer a simple question, but people that know me expect that. I hope this helps to understand another meat label. Please let me know if you have any more questions.