Free isn’t necessarily better

By now, you have probably seen the A&W advertisements promoting the restaurant chain’s elimination of hormone use in its beef.

By now, you have probably seen the A&W advertisements promoting the restaurant chain’s elimination of hormone use in its beef.

In September of this year A&W began advertising its new hormone-free foodstuffs as ‘better beef’.

It’s something that has upset a lot of cattle farmers. There are certainly those who believe that removing hormones from beef make it better for you, but there is some debate over whether or not this is true.

Firstly, to call A&W beef hormone free is not completely true because all multi-cellular organisms, humans included, produce hormones of their own. So, there may not be any hormones added to the cows A&W gets its beef from, but the cows will still produce hormones of their own.

What A&W has actually done is eliminated the use of hormone implants in its beef production process.

Many conventional beef producers use hormone implants to make their beef grow more muscle faster with less feed by producing more.

These implanted animals produce meat that contains slightly more of the hormone estrogen. But it’s only a little bit more with 1.9 nanograms versus 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per three ounce serving, according to Bruce Treffer of the University of Nebraska.

There is some belief that these extra estrogens can cause harm to humans who eat them, but all humans, males included, already produce estrogen. According to Ann Macrina at Penn State University, children’s bodies each produce 54,000 nanograms of it each day.

Not only that, but estrogen in implanted beef is miniscule compared to how much you might find in other foodstuffs. In cabbage, for example, you would find 2,000 nanograms of estrogen. Several studies have been done which suggest that natural foodstuffs like grains and seeds (most notably soybeans) contain the highest levels of estrogen. Also, those hormones are broken down by the digestion process, so they no longer work as hormones, said Macrina.

Use of hormone implants is legal in Canada and the U.S. but is illegal in other countries, such as those within the European Union. According to Health Canada, research has yet to yield significant evidence that consuming beef raised with hormone implants can lead to health concerns.

To be fair though, one could probably argue the opposite is true as well; that there has not been enough research to completely discredit claims that hormones are harmful either.

In any case, there certainly is a market for hormone-free beef. But the market still remains for conventionally raised beef as well.

So if you want to eat hormone-free beef (which as mentioned above isn’t really hormone free), by all means do so. If you want to continue eating beef with hormone implants, you are free to continue doing that as well.

Just make sure to educate yourself before doing either and don’t believe something is better just because someone on TV told you so.


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