Hormones in Food

How might hormones in milk or meat affect your health?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #80

Does Organic Beef and Milk Contain Hormones?

I should also point out that certified organic beef and milk is, by definition, produced without hormones. But that doesn’t mean that organic beef and milk are free of hormones. Remember that cows produce their own hormones—even the European ones, and these are present in their meat and milk.

Nonetheless, like the European Union, many American consumers would prefer to err on the side of caution and are willing to pay more for milk and meat produced without hormones.

That really pisses off the mainstream cattle and dairy industry. Lobbyists have pushed for—and, in some States, actually gotten—laws that would prevent dairy farmers who don’t use hormones from labeling their products “hormone-free” because, the lobbyists argue, it implies that hormone-free is better. Because the FDA maintains that it is not better, the lobbyists insist that the hormone-free label is misleading and slanderous.

Consumers Should Have a Choice

I think producers should have a right to provide details about how their food is produced, even if the state thinks those details are unimportant or irrelevant. Saying that meat or milk was produced without hormones is not misleading or libelous. It’s simply a fact, like saying that the cows are housed in a red barn.  If it’s important to me to drink milk from cows that live in a red barn, who is the government to keep that information from me? And if I’m willing to pay more for milk from cows that live in a red barn, that’s my choice as well.

Is Hormone-Free Better?

Personally, my concerns about the use of hormones in cattle have less to do with the quality of the meat and milk, and more to do with the effect that the hormones have on the health and well-being of the animals, and the impact of the hormones that enter the environment via the manure.  Frankly, I think we’re a little cavalier with our use of hormones and antibiotics in agriculture. Hormones are big guns, biologically, and are still relatively poorly understood. And I did an entire show on the use of antibiotics in meat, which you’ll find here.

The European Union ban on hormone use may be overly cautious, but what harm will come of it? If they’re wrong and hormones are harmless, cattle farmers will have sacrificed some profit.  If we’re wrong, and hormones turn out to be harmful, we may have sacrificed far more.

Because the effect of these hormones on human health is still an open question, you have to look at the evidence and arguments from both sides and decide what you feel comfortable with.  I’ve got links below to information from both sides of the debate.

I’m interested to know what you think about the issue of hormones and about the labeling debate. Post your comments below or join the discussion on the Nutrition Diva Facebook Page or on Twitter.

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or school, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438. 

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!


Selective Breeding for Rapid Growth in Poultry (The Humane Society)

Hormones in Cattle Production: Their Use and Safety (American Meat Institute)

Added Hormones in Meat and Dairy  (EBSCO Health Library)

The Use of Steroid Hormones for Growth Promotion in Food Producing Animals. (U.S. FDA)

Potential Health Impacts of rBST in Dairy Production  (Consumer’s Union)

Assessment of Potential Risks to Human Health from Hormone Residues (EU Scientific Committee

Hormones: A Safe Effective Tool for the Canadian Beef Industry Canadian Animal Health Institute

Steak image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.