When it comes to food and dieting, it can be extremely hard to discern what’s the truth and what isn’t. When we’re trying to discern what we should and shouldn’t be eating, the persuasiveness of sources, research, and agendas can lead us in either direction.
Take meat. Some assert that you can’t live without it; others, including vegetarians, vegans, and the like, are wholeheartedly against it, not only for nutritional but for ethical reasons. Then there are a plethora of questions about how to eat meat. What about the growth hormones in meat? Should we only eat organic? Is the carnivore diet really good for you?
With two sides to the issue and an abundance of information, things get overwhelming quickly, especially if you’re suffering from diet-related issues or just seeking answers. So, is meat good or bad? The answer, like the entire discussion, isn’t that simple.
Meat Is Good for Us, Until It Isn’t
The general consensus among nutrition experts, dieticians, and physicians is that we need meat in our diets. It provides essential vitamins and minerals to our bodies, and even the often-demonized meats are good for us — in moderation, of course.
There’s been much discussion on how meat increases the risk of heart disease and other health issues, but without it, things like our muscle strength and even our bone density can suffer.
The real threat to our health perhaps isn’t just meat, but the added hormones in the meat, and that’s what we should be concerned with. Though as a society we’ve been consuming meat from the beginning of civilization, the story of when it really began to threaten our health starts in the 1950s. At that time, the FDA began to review and approve steroid hormones for use in sheep and cattle. These hormones included testosterone, progesterone, estrogen, and more.
In the 1950s, the FDA began to review and approve steroid hormones for use in sheep and cattle.
We tend to view the 1950s as a brave new world of exploration, production, and a thriving economy. It’s hard to criticize our forefathers and previous generations, knowing what we know now, but still, we have to wonder — how the heck did they think that was okay?
Additionally, it’s important to understand that hormones aren’t injected in meat to improve quality or taste. With steroid hormones, the goal is to grow the animal as quickly as possible and to ensure that more of the food they eat is converted into meat just as quickly. Scientific progress should dictate that managing efficiency in food production is a victory for both farmers and consumers, but unfortunately, like many “victories,” the unintended consequences of progress like this are harmful, but rarely discussed.
Where Things Go Wrong: Hormones in Our Meat
By now, many of us know that growth hormones in our meat do cause harm to our bodies. But pinpointing exactly what that looks like can often be harder to find and often individualized.
Across the board, though, the most common issues seen that are associated with hormones are developmental issues in prepubescent children, reproductive issues, and cancer.
In 2010, the medical journal Pediatrics released staggering statistics in relation to puberty, specifically the almost shocking rise in breast development in young girls, both Caucasian and African American, aged 7 and 8 years old. Specifically, those statistics found girls developing breast tissue years younger than girls only two decades before. Endocrinologist Dr. Stanley Korneman of UCLA associated these findings with exposure to estrogens in everyday environments, including those found in growth hormones in meat.
Daily consumption of meat led to a 30% risk of anovulatory infertility.
Additionally, there have also been discussions about the possibility of meat, specifically poultry consumption, relating to anovulatory infertility (interfering with ovulation, such as PCOS). A study from Harvard which watched women trying to conceive for eight years found that daily consumption of meat led to a 30% risk of anovulatory infertility. Dr. Michael Greger, who publishes studies and reports on the subject, believes sex hormones in meat consumed by expectant mothers may even interfere with the development of male genitalia in utero.
In 2003, an Ohio State study saw “significant” growth in cancer cells in hormone-treated cows with breast cancer.
The FDA and USDA persist in claiming there are no adverse risks to one’s health when consuming hormone-treated meat. But in 1988, the European Union banned the import of meat treated with the six different growth hormones commonly used in meat production in the U.S. And in 2002, a scientific research panel from the EU found (through 17 separate studies) that those six hormones pose risks to health when consumed in treated meat.
Did We Do This To Ourselves?
Going back to the ’50s, and considering the time period, it’s not hard to contextualize the environment which led to that initial FDA decision. With a booming economy, growing families, thriving cities, and the like, food demand and production had to keep up with the times.
Enter: factory farming. Factory farming got its start in the ’30s and ’40s through increased industrialization (though Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was a 1906 look into the industry), when large scale companies began to enter what was previously a smaller-scale business. Then, with government subsidies incentivizing farms and a booming economy, coupled with scientific development and the push to keep up with demand, the business exploded into the monolith we know it as today.
The business, the hormones, the consequences to our health — it all ties together.
But we probably couldn’t conceptualize back then how much we would sacrifice in the future. Where we only saw progress and efficiency, we now see a mountain of issues piling on top of each other. The business, the hormones, the consequences to our health — it all ties together and is inextricably linked.
Sometimes we have to take a hard look at the small things to see the bigger picture, and in this case, it’s the food we eat on an everyday basis, and the corporations we prop up by doing so.
The benefits and advantages of eating organically have been touted for decades, but have we really been paying attention? Factory farms continue to thrive and to produce, and we continue to buy.
What we shouldn’t be buying, though, are the supplications and empty narratives of bureaucracy. Why the government is able to even play a role in being able to dictate what we eat should worry us, aside from the FDA and USDA’s undeniable influence on the industry.
This specific issue is just one example of the obvious — the bureaucracy (or factory farm, as the case may be) doesn’t care about your family or your health problems. They care about dollar signs and nothing more, and realizing there’s a lot more going on here that meets the eye is the first acknowledgment we can allow ourselves in choosing a future that’s healthy not just for our physical health, but for our communities and our society as well.