Homing in on Hormones

November 07, 2016

m&ms hormone representation (photo cred Holly Spangler)

Recently, a group of dietetic interns from Northern Illinois University were given the opportunity to tour Steve Ward's pig farm and Alan Adams' cattle farm to see the first step in the food production process for themselves. They learned about the science behind livestock farming and asked their own questions about how a farmer's choices affect food safety. Here is what they learned:

As part of our dietetic internship, we participated in a tour of two local family farms to learn more about the practices of hog and cattle farming in central Illinois. As future dietitians, it is our priority to make accurate and healthy recommendations for our clients to promote proper nutrition. With varying information in the news, and deceiving labels on store packages, we wanted to find out the details of what conversations were myths and what were the facts. On September 22nd, 2016 we visited the Old Elm Farm--part of the Ward Family Farm-- where we learned about hog farming. As the oldest standing recorded farm in DeKalb County, the Ward family had an abundance of wisdom to share with us on their practices. We then followed up that visit with a trip to Adam’s family farm in Sandwich, IL where we learned about cattle farming.

At these two sites we were amazed to learn more about the use of hormones and antibiotics, as well as animal welfare and the environment. Our interest during the tour focused on hormone use during the farming process of both of these livestock. We discovered as part of a federal law, hormone use is not allowed for growth promotion in hog farming and poultry farming. The only situation in which hormones are used and allowed in the process of pig farming is for reproductive purposes. We realized that at the grocery store, labels reading “hormone free” on packages of chicken and pork are merely just a marketing ploy for consumers to purchase their products.
 
This differs for cattle, in that hormones--typically estrogen or androgens-- are used for growth purposes. Specifically they are used to increase the growth rate by about 10-20%. The hormone is injected under the skin of the ear where it dissolves slowly over time. The ear is used for this process because it is the only part of the animal that is not used or consumed. Growth hormones are used in cattle farming in order to produce leaner meats more efficiently.
 
The use of hormones is of great concern to many consumers, but the Adam’s family showed us a simple visual demonstration of the amount of hormones in meat compared to other foods by using jars filled with mini M&Ms (photo by Holly Spangler). Each M&M represented the amount of hormone in various foods in nanograms. To represent the amount of hormones in 3 ounces of beef, they showed a sliver of an M&M and to represent the amount of hormones in a potato they showed a mason jar filled to the top. They then explained that in the human body we have 13 pints of M&Ms worth of hormones, and further, a women of childbearing years naturally has 178 pints of M&Ms. This clarified the small amounts of hormones present in the beef at market and consumed in our homes!
 
Thank you to both families for providing us with information about hormone use in hog and cattle farming, so that we can share this important information with those that come to us with food, nutrition, and health questions!

Authored By Ashley Ejnik, Emily Mitchell, and Nina Brkovic.

Northern Illinois University Dietetic Interns DeKalb, IL

In the fall of 2016, a group of Dietetic Interns from NIU toured a local beef cattle farm in Sandwich, IL and a pig farm in Sycamore, IL to learn more about how food is produced and what that means for food safety. After the tours, they shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms.

Related Information

What is "Sustainable Farming?"

What is "Sustainable Farming?"

To the consumer, sustainable farming is responsible farming. To major businesses, sustainable...

Read more >>

M&M's and Nanograms and Beef

M&M's and Nanograms and Beef

Mike took four jars, enlisting the help of his grandson, and filled...

Read more >>

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted a Steak

I Visited a Beef Farm and Still Wanted a Steak

Here is what I can tell you: the family cares about the...

Read more >>