Despite the risks of mad cow disease (BSE), Consumers Union of Japan is threatening to boycott U.S. beef. In contrast, the U.S. tests just one in 2,000 cattle with BSE symptoms, mainly cattle over 30 months old. Further concerns include the fact that the U.S. still lacks a tracking system that could allow cattle to be traced back to their herds when infected.
Due to the high level of sex hormone contamination in U.S. beef, the threatened boycott is strengthened and extended. At the midpoint of their 100-day fattening period before slaughter, U.S. beef cattle are implanted with sex hormone pellets under their ears, which are repeated at the midpoint of their feedlots. By increasing cattle weight, these hormones increase profits by about $80 per animal.
A number of hormones have been used in the past and present, including estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone as well as zeranol, trenbolone, and melengesterol, all of which are synthetic. As a result, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have waived requirements for residue testing and have maintained that residue levels in meat are within “normal levels.”
Europeans, however, have been sceptical about U.S. claims, and the EU has banned the sale of hormone-treated beef since 1989. In addition to the United States, Canada has also claimed the European ban is protectionist, costing North America $100 million each year in lost exports.
The FDA has discovered, however, that meat products are contaminated with hormones based on confidential industry reports obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The residues of these hormones in meat were 20-fold higher than normal after a single ear implant of Synovex-S in steers. A woman eating two hamburgers can increase her total hormone levels by as much as 10% when she consumes two hamburgers in one day. This is especially true for young children who do not produce much natural estrogen.
Since 1975, the escalating incidence of reproductive cancer in the U.S. has been linked ever more closely to the increasing levels of sex hormones. Postmenopausal breast cancer has increased by 37%, testicular cancer has increased by 46%, and prostate cancer has increased by 88%. There is now much recognition that estrogenic pesticides, phthalate contaminants in food, and parabens and phthalates in cosmetics and toiletries disrupt the endocrine system. In contrast, meat contamination by sex hormones like estradiol and zeranol that are more potent remains virtually unnoticed.
Recently, Ohio State University researchers demonstrated that meat and blood from cattle implanted with zeranol has powerful hormonal effects, resistant to cooking, that strongly reinforce these concerns. Studies have shown that it stimulates both normal and cancerous human breast cells.
American women have a five-fold higher risk of developing breast cancer than Japanese women, according to well-known statistics. According to a recent study of cancer rates in Los Angeles County, the country’s most populous and ethnically diverse county, Japanese women have a low cancer risk for the first one to two generations after they immigrate. There is growing evidence that avoidable breast cancer is caused by Westernized diets and lifestyles, as well as other “Westernized” factors.
Japanese consumer groups should take these considerations into account when they express concerns about U.S. beef, including BSE and hormonal contamination.
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