The assault on the U.S. beef industry is becoming almost ridiculous…it is and has been one of the safest food/meat products in the world. Far more people fall prey to seafood and chicken and other food sources than they do to beef, but the “horror” attached to the rare outbreaks of “mad cow” disease make it far more alarming than it is. Beef producers are working harder and harder to cultivate a balanced perspective on beef production and the fact that in America, very few animals are victim to such outbreaks.

As questions about beef and its safety arise, people need to go beyond the headlines. We all recognize the power of the media, but the power of influence it exerts is paramount in the ‘war’ against beef, its producers, and even agriculture, on the whole. It is a political battle.

I thought it would be helpful to go through the dozens of resources available on the safety of beef to answer some of the most common questions consumers ask. They include the following:

How are animal antibiotics used by beef producers? Are they used

Antibiotics, given through injections or in feed, are used to treat and control the spread of illnesses such as pneumonia, bacterial infections and diseases of the intestinal tract. Beef producers work with veterinarians and follow the Producer Guidelines for Judicious Use of Antimicrobials, which outline the correct use of antibiotics. Just like any medication, a recommended dosage is part of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process for antibiotics. Treating sick animals is important because healthy animals lead to safe and wholesome food.

At the same t wsing antibiotics as a widespread preventative measure is not only bad veterinary practice, it is simply too expensive. Ranchers try hard to keep their herds as antibiotic-free as possible. In fact, more and more ranchers avoid them unless absolutely necessary, and will tag those animals who have had to have anitbiotics administered.

Does using antibiotics in beef production have an effect on human health?

A recently published study in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy found little evidence that antibiotic use in animals poses a risk to human health. Additionally, federal law mandates that no meat sold in the United States may contain antibiotic residues that violate the FDA’s
scientifically established standards. Antibiotics used in beef cattle actually undergo a rigorous and comprehensive scientific testing process before being given approval from the FDA. But, again, even ranchers are concerned about minimizing any potential for risk in their herds and avoid using antibiotics routinely or carelessly.

What are growth promoting hormones and why are they used?

Many more ranchers, in fact, are eliminating growth hormones from their herds, if only as a conscientious response to consumer demand, and this beef can be sought out at the market by asking or looking for labels that stress ‘no-growth-hormones’ used. However, at the same time,
growth hormones (also called growth promotants), which are found as small pellets about the size of a pencil eraser and implanted under the skin on the back of an animal’s ear, release tiny amounts of hormones, safely dissolve as the animal grows. They are approved by the FDA, and have, for over 50 years, helped producers safely meet the increasing consumer demand for
lean beef. Typically, cattle raised with growth promotants can have up to 18 percent more lean muscle than other cattle, with an equal decrease in fat.

Do the growth promotants leave any hormones in the beef?

In multiple studies over the past decades, growth hormones have NOT been found to influence or increase to any significant degree, the amounts of estrogen found in beef. These studies have been conducted on cattle raised with and without growth promoting hormones

The amount of increased estrogen found is miniscule, i.e.: 1.9 versus 1.3 nanograms per serving.
What’s little known is that the human body naturally produces far more estrogen than is found in commonly eaten foods, including beef. For instance, an adult woman produces about 253,000 times more estrogen every day than is found in a 3-ounce serving of beef. The FDA regularly tests for, and has never found, residues in meat that would indicate misuse of growth promoting products.

But, again, in response to consumer concerns, producers throughout the nation have responded by eliminating or reducing their use of growth hormones.

What producers hope Americans will realize, in fact, is that they are as concerned about safety and quality as the consumer. Cattle in this nation are raised in environmentally-friendly ways, including pasturing and grazing; that cattle have benefits to the environment, which the media seems blatant in overlooking or reviewing; that cattle contribute to good health, again, a concept that has been overlooked and avoided.

Mythology abounds in this country about beef and it is a sad commentary on both the media and the point of view it espouses and promotes and on consumers who do little individual research beyond headlines and the rants of those who have another agenda.

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