With so much conflicting news about the benefits of organic food and the possible dangers of hormone treated meat and dairy products in the media, it can be tricky for parents to discern what kinds of food are safe for their families. Some reports claim that food products that come from animals that have been treated with growth hormones can negatively affect the growth of a child. In truth, while some scientists have linked growth hormones to early puberty and certain cancers, there is no definitive proof to these claims and the FDA has declared hormone use safe.
Growth hormones are commonly given to livestock to accelerate the animals' growth or dairy production, hence providing a greater profit margin for farmers. The USDA does not allow the use of hormones in the production of pork and fowl, so you only have to worry about hormones finding their way into the beef, sheep, and dairy products that make it on to your table. Although hormone use is the industry standard in non-organic beef and dairy production, the level that appears in commercially sold food is relatively small and is considered to be safe by the FDA.
The most common concern that parents have about hormones in their children's food is the possibility that the hormones may cause early puberty in girls. While girls are on average reaching puberty at a slightly earlier age than in previous generations, this change cannot be directly linked to hormones found in meat and dairy. While the hormones are suspected to contribute to early puberty, no conclusive study has proven that they are the definitive culprit.
Some small-scale studies have suggested that meat and dairy growth hormones can contribute to breast and prostate cancers later in life. Again, science has not been able to definitively point the finger at food hormones for the rise in cancer rates. Research on this topic is ongoing, but until a conclusive study emerges, the FDA will continue to label hormone use as safe.
Since research does not prove that the hormones found in food cause cancer or early puberty, nor has it proven that the hormones have no effects, the choice is really yours as a parent. If you still have concerns about growth hormones, you can limit the amount of beef, lamb, and dairy that you feed to your family; you can also stick with pork and poultry, or choose hormone-free organic products. Either way, if you balance their red meat intake with other proteins, along with grains, fruits, and vegetables, any effects that the hormones may have on your children's future health is most likely negligible.
- Harvard University Gazette; Hormones in Milk Can Be Dangerous; Corydon Ireland; 2006
- Cornell University; Consumer Concerns About Hormones in Food; Renu Gandhi et al; June, 2000
- Weil; Avoiding Hormones in Meat and Poultry?; Dr. Andrew Weil; December 2006
- Health.com; Hormones In Food: Should You Worry?; Carina Storrs; January, 2011
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