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Food Safety Testing and Beef Growth Hormones
  1. You often hear that growth hormones are not a problem. Why should I test?
  2. We already have a provider of test kits. What could NaturalCheck offer us?
  3. Why do NaturalCheck tests focus on trenbolone and zeranol?
  4. Do the tests work on samples from animals other than cattle?
  5. What levels of hormones are allowed in different countries?
  6. What is our risk if we fail to comply with regulations?
  7. What does this mean for my production process?
  8. How widely used are growth hormones in beef?
  9. Are there health concerns related to hormone-treated beef?
  10. Are there environmental consequences of hormone use in beef?
  11. Can I get hormone-free beef?
  12. What is "natural" beef?
  13. Where can I find more information on beef growth hormones?
  14. What is ELISA?
  1. You often hear that growth hormones are not a problem. Why should I test?
    While some countries permit the use of hormones, others ban hormone use as a matter of food safety. In other cases, testing supports marketing claims of "natural" or "organic." Testing gives you more confidence than paper promises about the presence of added hormones. Testing reduces your risk when your suppliers operate under regulations different than your own. Testing can help you build your brand and access new markets.
  2. We already have a provider of test kits. What could NaturalCheck offer us?
    NaturalCheck beef growth hormone ELISA test kits offer a unique simultaneous extraction method for meat samples, allowing testing for both trenbolone and zeranol with only one extraction. The tests can evaluate fatty samples, more accurately representing what is consumed. Third party evaluators report that the solvents in the NaturalCheck kits are less noxious than ethers or chloroform used in other kits. NaturalCheck tests also offer a fast and affordable method of testing.
  3. Why do NaturalCheck tests focus on trenbolone and zeranol?
    NaturalCheck Growth Hormone Tests can detect the two most commonly used artificial hormones in beef - trenbolone and zeranol. While artificial hormones may be detected through testing, use of naturally occurring growth hormones is almost impossible to distinguish from natural levels.

    NaturalCheck currently has no tests for the artificial growth hormones melengestrol (MGA) or diethylstilbestrol (DES) as these are used infrequently in world markets. Users of MGA generally also use trenbolone or zeranol, so screening for these two hormones provides an indirect screen for MGA. A recent study shows some use of DES in Turkey. We will consider developing tests for MGA and DES based on customer feedback.
  4. Do the test kits work on samples from animals other than cattle?
    Some of the same growth hormones used in beef production are used in pork and lamb production. We have not evaluated the use of the growth hormone tests for tissues from these animals, but would like to hear from you if this would helpful.
  5. What levels of hormones are allowed in different countries?

    Sources:

    Food Research Institute: Human Safety of Hormone Implants Used to Promote Growth in Cattle: A Review of the Scientific Literature. FRI Briefings. 2000.

    U.S. Food and Drug Administration: CVM Update: FDA Withdraws Guidance on Use of Unapproved Hormone Implants in Veal Calves. July 15, 2004.

    The table below is a survey of standards in different countries. Please check with national officials for the most current information.

  6. What is our risk if we fail to comply with regulations?
    Damage claims in the case of non-compliance or wrong labeling may be considerably more costly than growth hormone tests. Under current regulations, your competitors are facing the same issues. Recently, for example, organic milk companies in the U.S. were subject to a false claims suit.
  7. What does this mean for my production process?
    Users of the ELISA test have found that they can process about 20 samples per day. This is comparable or faster to other tests in the field.
  8. How widely used are growth hormones in beef?
    Between 67-90 percent of U.S. beef is produced with the use of growth hormones. They are implanted in or fed to cattle to promote rapid weight gain. Beef labeled "naturally raised" generally is not treated with hormones, although some "natural" beef brands allow the use of hormones as long as the detection levels are below certain levels at the time of slaughter. Use of hormones in organically raised cattle is prohibited, globally. The use of growth hormones in calves raised for veal is illegal in the U.S. However, in 2004, evidence of use found by veterinarians led to a nationwide suspension of veal sales.

    Since 1989, the European Union has banned the use of growth hormones and the importation of meat with growth hormones. Hormone use is banned in Brazil but allowed in Argentina. Regulations and levels of enforcement vary throughout the world. Some countries that ban the use of added hormones, including the United Kingdom, have increased monitoring of imported beef, while others have relied solely on paper certification. Tran-shipment of beef from hormone- using producer countries through non-hormone-using processing countries may be increasing exposure to hormone treated beef for importers such as European Union member states.
  9. Are there health concerns related to hormone-treated beef?
    Potential human health effects of hormones used in beef protection include premature development in children and increased risk of cancer. The subject is contested scientifically and has led to a trade dispute before the World Trade Organization which ruled against the European ban on the importation of growth hormone treated meat.
  10. Are there environmental consequences of hormone use in beef?
    Runoff from cattle farms in the US often results in growth hormones flowing into nearby rivers and streams. This can result in hormones in drinking water and in fish populations. Studies have shown gender-bending characteristics caused by hormones occurring in fish downstream from cattle farms. These studies have raised concerns about possible links to the rising incidence of premature development in girls and lower sperm counts in men.
  11. Can I get hormone-free beef?
    Since all plants and animals produce hormones, a "hormone-free" plant or meat product is a misnomer and a "hormone-free" marketing claim cannot be made. In the U.S., the Non-Hormone Treated Cattle program (NHTC) certifies beef that was produced without the use of growth hormones. The program aids producers who export to nations that ban the use of growth hormones. Worldwide, the labels "organic," and "bio" represent products which producers pledge, and sometimes test, to assure customers that beef is produced without added hormones or antibiotics.
  12. What is "natural" beef?
    Meat product labeling that is allowable for natural beef varies in the U.S. because there are not yet formal standards for "natural" and the use of growth hormones can vary. The first four "natural" labels below indicate that hormones were never used; the last two indicate that growth hormones were administered at some point.

    • No supplemental hormones used
    • Raised without supplemental hormones
    • No added hormones
    • The livestock has never received supplemental hormones from birth to harvest
    • No hormones administered during finishing
    • The livestock have not received supplemental hormones during the feeding/finishing period
  13. Where can I find more information on beef growth hormones?
    A diverse range of perspectives is available at:

  14. What is ELISA?
    ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) A sensitive technique for accurately determining specific molecules in a mixed sample. The amount of protein or other antigen in a given sample is determined by means of an enzyme-catalysed color change, avoiding both the hazards and expense of radioactive techniques.

    ELISA takes various forms. In the most common form, two antibody preparations are used in ELISA. An antibody (primary) specific to the test molecule is adsorbed onto a solid substrate, and a known amount of the sample is added; all test molecules in the sample are bound by the antibody. A second antibody specific for a second site on the test molecule is added; this is conjugated with an enzyme, which catalyses a color change in the fourth reagent, added finally. The color change is measured photometrically and compared against a standard curve to give the concentration of test molecule in the sample. ELISA is widely used for diagnostic and other purposes.