by Samuel S. Epstein, MD, professor of Environmental Medicine, University of Illinois School of Public Health, Chicago Illinois; chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and member of NOHA’s Professional Advisory Board

The World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in favor of the 1989 European ban on the use of sex hormones for growth promotion of cattle in feedlots prior to slaughter. While subject to further assessment before it can be made permanent, this ruling is a major victory for European consumers. It is also a major defeat for the United States and Canada, which challenged the European ban claiming that it was "protectionist," costing over $100 million a year in lost exports, and that it reflected "consumerism versus science." The WTO ruling also raises serious concerns on the safety of U. S. meat, recently questioned on different grounds by Oprah Winfrey, based on the following considerations:

  • Confidential industry reports to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal high residues of natural and synthetic sex hormones in meat products even under ideal test conditions. This is contrary to repeated and explicit assurances by the FDA and the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
  • Following legal implantation in the ear of steers of Synovex-5, a combination of estradiol and progesterone, estradiol levels in meat products ranged up to 20-fold in excess of the normal. . Based on conservative estimates, the amount of estradiol in two hamburgers eaten by an 8-year-old boy could increase his hormone levels by 10%.
  • Much higher hormone residues are found in meat products following illegal implantation in cattle muscle, which is commonplace in U. S. feedlots. The WTO ruled that such abuse alone would justify the European ban.
  • Contrary to repeated and explicit assurances by the FDA and USDA, none of the approximately 130 million U. S. livestock slaughtered annually are tested for residues of cancer-causing and gene-damaging estradiol or any related sex hormones. This misrepresentation has been confirmed by European Commission inspectors, in the November 1997 survey of U. S. control programs, who reported that there was no monitoring for residues of sex hormones nor for illegal animal drugs, including antibiotics, and that U. S. residue monitoring was totally inadequate to meet European standards.
  • Repeated assurances on the safety of hormonal meat by the World Health Organization bodies, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Codex Alimentarium Commission (FAO/CODEX), reflect minimal expertise in public health, high representation of senior FDA and USDA officials and industry consultants, reliance on unpublished industry and outdated scientific information, and conflicts of interest. Paradoxically, the same Codex Commission, which approved hormonal meat, explicitly warned over a decade ago that baby meat foods "shall be free from residues of hormones."
  • Lifelong exposure to high residues of natural and synthetic sex hormones in meat products poses serious risks of breast and other reproductive cancers, whose incidence in the U. S. has sharply escalated since 1950, namely, 55% for breast cancer, 120% for testicular cancer, and 230% for prostate cancer. Those hormone residues have also been incriminated in increasing trends of precocious sexual development.


The European ban on hormonal meat should serve as a long-overdue wake-up call for U. S. consumers to demand an immediate ban on hormone use, or, minimally, the explicit labeling of hormonal meat products. It should also lead to a congressional investigation of the FDA and USDA for gross regulatory abdication besides suppression of information vital to consumer health. The dangers of U. S. hormonal meat can no longer be ignored.

Article from NOHA NEWS, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, Summer 1998, pages 3-4.