The Truth About Antibiotics and Hormones in Beef

The use of hormones and antibiotics in the beef we eat is being questioned individually and on a large scale. An example of this is Steve Ells, Chipotle’s founder, chairman, and co-CEO, who stated┬áthe chain was going to import beef from over 8,000 miles away in Australia, because the supply of antibiotic and hormone free beef has dwindled recently. That is his opinion, and he is entitled to it, but I just wanted to help spread awareness about how antibiotics and hormones are used in the beef industry.

The different antibiotics used in humans and beef cattle

Top antibiotics in humans vs. animals

Most people do not realize that the main antibiotics used in production agriculture are different from the main antibiotics used for human treatment, so the formation of “superbugs” from agricultural use of antibiotics is unlikely. This is helped by farmers following the prescription regiment better than human patients do (mostly because the cattle can’t tell us they “feel fine, they don’t need anymore medicine.”)

People that do not take/finish their antibiotic prescriptions from the doctor are more likely to contribute to the formation of “superbugs” than farmers who administer antibiotics to their sick cattle to prevent a loss.

Another protection protocol is that all antibiotics come with specific labels about the length of time (between 14-22 days) from the final administration of the antibiotic and harvest of the animal. The time span provided depends on the antibiotic, the dosage, and the length of the prescription; this time frame allows for enough time for the antibiotic to leave the animal’s system.

Now for the next thing Steve Ells said that US beef couldn’t provide, hormone free beef. The US can’t provide it because it is impossible, all living things have hormones so there is no such thing as “hormone free” beef. But we’ll just assume he meant no added hormones. It is true, some farms use added hormones to aid in raising their cattle, this is perfectly legal unlike in the poultry and pork industries. Hormones in cattle are administered through an implant under the skin on the back of the ear and are released slowly over time. Since the ear is one of the few parts of the beef carcass that we discard the implant never enters the food industry.

Now for the part everyone is worried about, the amount of hormones that actually end up in our food. Research has shown that a 3 oz natural, non-implanted steak has 1.39 nano grams of estrogen. A 3 oz hormone implanted steak has 1.89 nano grams of estrogen. In comparison 3 oz of cabbage has 2,017 nano grams, one birth control pill has 34,000 nano grams, and a normal adult male has 136,000 nano grams of estrogen. All of these numbers are well and good, but how much is a nano gram? It is one-billionth of a gram, in other words not a lot! To put that in a visual perspective if you took a paper clip and then tore it into 1 billion pieces, one of those pieces would be about equal to a nano gram.

While Steve Ells and Chipotle choose to source beef from over 8,000 miles away, I am perfectly satisfied with my American raised beef, because I know the truth about antibiotics and hormones in beef.

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