A perspective on “food hormones”

Considerable concern is expressed by both consumer advocacy groups and some regulatory bodies relating to allegations of “hormones” being present in foods. Estrogenic compounds occur naturally in many grains and contribute to low and continual intake by consumers.

A recent study conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration quantified the estrogen intake present in a 3 oz serving of a number of foods. Beef, without any supplemental hormone treatment, contained 1.3 nanograms of estrogen equivalent. Beef from animals treated with growth promoting compounds contained 1.9 nanograms. In contrast, a 3 oz serving of ice cream contained 520 nanograms, wheat germ, 3,400 nano grams and soybean oil contained 168 million nanograms.

To place the value of a nanogram in perspective, one nanogram would represent 1 drop of water in 16,000 gallons.

The comparison of the levels of estrogenic compounds from foods conducted at Michigan State University confirms that beef, whether organic or derived from animals, treated with a growth stimulant contributes to a negligible intake of estrogen in relation to conventional grains and vegetable oils. In fact, it is calculated that the estrogenic activity in one human birth control pill is equivalent to the quantity in 1.5 tons of beef derived from herds receiving a growth-stimulating compound.

The lesson from the analysis is that scientific data and analyses are disregarded and considered irrelevant in establishing policies which regulate international trade. Artificial trade barriers can be erected on the basis on alleged presence of “hormones” or endocrine disruptors but the validity of these restrictions has no basis in either science or logic.