How about some Zeranol with your Big Mac?

The March issue of Progressive Farmer magazine (which I’m just now getting around to reading) has an article titled “Ten Keys to a Profitable Herd.”  Item number seven includes this “profitable” tip:

I routinely implant steer calves with Ralgro, a growth promotant.  This probably gives me the biggest bang for the buck among all cattle inputs, except for deworming.  Implants improve daily gains by about 0.2 pounds per day.  If you add 20 pounds to a calf, that’s about $20.  The implant costs $1.19, and it takes 30 seconds to place it in the calf’s ear.  I implant my calves twice–once when they’re all on the ground and again at weaning.  All you need is a head restraint.  It’s as simple as vaccinating.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?  Just implant a growth promotant into a calf’s ear a couple of times and make an extra 20 bucks (less the cost of the Ralgro, of course).  And golly, all you need is a head restraint.

What, one might ask, is this “Ralgro” that is “routinely” implanted in the steers’ ears to improve “profitability”?

Well, “Ralgro” is just a brand name owned by the pharmaceutical giant Schering Plough.  The active drug in Ralgro is Zeranol, a derivative of resorcylic acid lactone fermentation products.   Zeranol is produced from the mold of a fungus often found in animal feeds.  It is a synthetic agent, that essentially acts like estrogen.

So, one might also ask, is it OK to implant a “derivative of resorcylic acid lactone fermentation products,” into a steer that is destined for human consumption?

In the U.S. such practices are routine, increasing the “profitability” of both industrial cattle farming, and Schering Plough.  In the E.U., on the other hand, the use of Zeranol has been banned since 1985.

The Breast Cancer Research Fund has this to say about Zeranol:

One of the most widely used chemicals in the U.S. beef industry is zeranol (Ralgro). Zeranol is a potent nonsteroidal growth promoter that mimics many of the effects of the natural hormone estradiol.

Danish researchers compared the potency of zeranol to other endocrine disruptors and concluded, “The very high potency of zeranol… suggests that zeranol intake from beef products could have greater impact on consumers than the amounts of the known or suspected endocrine disruptors that have been found in food.”

A series of studies examined estrogenic activity in normal breast epithelial cells and breast cancer cells. Abnormal cell growth was significant even at zeranol levels almost 30 times lower than the FDA established limit in beef. Follow-up work demonstrated that zeranol is comparable to natural estrogen (estradiol) and the synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) in its ability to transform MCF-10A human breast epithelial cells to a precancerous profile in vitro.

Research at Ohio State University also confirms that when beef from steers pumped with this synthetic estrogen is mixed with human breast cancer cells, “significant” cancer cell growth results.

But the beef industry, and the USDA, insist that it’s just fine to implant synthetic estrogen into the ears of young steers.  And after all, twenty bucks is twenty bucks.  And we want to make sure that the burger chains can keep their whoppers and quarter-pounders as cheap as possible don’t we?

But just in case you might prefer a Zeranol-free steak or hamburger, I recommend you buy your beef from a local, natural producer.  You can find one close to you at www.eatwild.com and www.localharvest.com.

And, by the way, profitable or not, we won’t be implanting any Ralgro into our calves’ ears on White Flint Farm.

Grace and Peace.

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