Organic regulations strictly forbid the use of synthetic growth or breeding hormones in livestock, because of concerns for potential impacts on the environment and human and animal health. At Organic Valley, we believe that synthetic hormones are not necessary, and we follow the “precautionary principle,” a simple belief that any potential risk to human health warrants caution.
There's been a lot of press and controversy about the use of rBGH in conventional dairy cows. But there are some additional FDA approved hormones commonly used in conventional livestock production, as growth promoters or to artificially enhance breeding.
Growth hormones are widely used in the conventional beef industry to enhance weight gain in beef cattle and to enhance milk production in dairy cattle. The most well-known of these hormones is recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), an artificially produced hormone that, when injected, can increase milk production by up to 15%. In the beef industry, pellets of estrogenic growth hormones are implanted under the skin of the animal which slowly releases the hormone into the bloodstream. The hormone “promotes” extra weight gain, an economic benefit since it shortens the time an animal takes to reach ideal size. These “estrogenic” hormones mimic the hormone estrogen, which in turn can have potential negative effects on wildlife and on human health.
Humans are exposed to synthetic hormones when they eat the meat of livestock treated with these chemicals. The hormones are also excreted in the urine of livestock, and can contaminate water supplies for humans and wildlife, with deleterious results.
While all animals produce estrogen, the effect of additional estrogen on mammals is not entirely understood. Some studies show a “feminizing effect” on males. Males exposed to environmental estrogens can show lowered sperm counts and abnormal sexual development. Environmental estrogens may also cause females to enter sexual maturity earlier than normal, and a potential increased risk of breast cancer. This growing body of evidence has prompted the European Union to ban growth promoting hormones and all imports that were produced with them.
The U.S. conventional dairy industry utilizes “breeding hormones” to enhance cycling and pregnancy rates for the benefit of production, not the cow. Primarily, breeding hormones are used for convenience: to have many cows come into estrus at the same time or to offset breeding difficulties due to poor genetics and physical condition. These hormones fall into two classes: prostaglandins and gonadotropins.
Even tiny amounts of hormones used in livestock production can have a negative impact on human health, especially on developing fetuses and young children.
The use of growth and breeding hormones offers little benefit to the consumer. The potential negative effects on the animals, human health and wildlife greatly outweigh any perceived economic benefit.
The European Union bans all meat and livestock products produced with growth hormones.