Last week, while I was attending the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s 2012 Antibiotic Symposium in Columbus, Ohio, I joined some of the other attendees for a lovely dinner at a high-end steakhouse.
When the server came out with a beautiful platter of plastic-wrapped pieces of steak to show us our choices, she started to describe the beef that the restaurant used.
She was doing great until the end when she declared: “All of our beef is hormone-free.” We all gave sort of a collective sigh with some head-shaking – here we go again. Do we pick this battle and try to educate this server? I’m sure you can imagine that a group of seven who represented the beef industry in various forms was not going to let this one pass. And we didn’t.
We informed the server that all beef contains hormones, naturally-occurring or otherwise. To which she said, “Well these cows are fed hormones early on but by the time they are done they are all gone.” Obviously, she had hormones confused with antibiotic residues.
We tried to explain that wasn’t right, at which point she just gave up and said, “I don’t know. That’s what they told us to say.” We let her off the hook as it was apparent she was only spouting the information that someone else who probably didn’t know what they were talking about told her (and the other servers) to say.
It’s just too bad that when you are paying a lot for a really nice steak that the owners/managers/chefs either don’t take the time to have adequate knowledge about it, or if they do, they neglect to pass on the correct information to the people who are actually interfacing with customers.
The number one health concern with meat is making sure it’s cooked enough to kill dangerous bacteria, which is something both conventionally and organically produced meats have.
So says Dr. Dana Hanson, a meat specialist in North Carolina State University’s Food Science Department in a piece for WRAL (see below).
“The end result is a healthy food product in either scenario. To say that one is better or more healthy than the other is, quite frankly, a stretch.”
There are also debates about animal treatment, environmental concerns and how antibiotics may impact bacteria strains. But those debates are separate from the nutrition and safety of the meat we ultimately eat.
Those comments were markedly different than those from producers of specialty meats
Ritchie Roberts of Double R Cattle Services Farm near Hillsborough said,
“I know that my beef is all grass-fed and handled correctly and is super good and nutritious for you ’cause I know what goes into it. and I have control of that. It boils down to that sense of being able to support maybe a local industry and that’s really where the benefits of organic come in.”
Draft owner Dean Ogan says, “The most important thing for us is to know where it came from, know who produced it, know the process.”
All worthy objectives — that have nothing to do with safety.
Another Australian supermarket chain has gotten into the BS business by claiming the lamb on its shelves is hormone-free.
This despite hormones never being used in lamb production in Australia.
Melbourne supermarket chain Maxi Foods has signs on the meat shelves of its Blackburn and Upper Ferntree Gully stores advertizing that "All our beef, lamb and pork are Australian grown with no added hormones."
The chain is following Coles, which began advertising HGP-free beef last year.
The advertising has angered the Sheepmeat Council, which said hormones have never been used in lamb production in Australia.
President Kate Joseph said growth hormones were never used because they were not needed.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority confirmed no hormones were registered for use in lamb production in Australia.
Australia has just as much foodborne illness as everyone else. Retailers get drunk on the profit margins for specious claims like organic/natural/local/sustainable or hormone-free, which have nothing to do with people barfing.
Market microbiologically safe food – and back it up with meaningful data.
Adding hormones to Australian poultry was outlawed in the early 1960s but the myth of pumped-up chickens has persisted, said Dr Andreas Dubs, the executive director of the Australian Chicken Meat Federation.
Choice spokesman Christopher Zinn said,
"You can’t have hormone-free chicken unless there are chickens that are pumped up on hormones. I think it’s a little dodgy. It’s true, but it’s like saying it’s plutonium-free or cyanide-free because it’s suggesting that anything that doesn’t have that label on it might have that."
A Coles spokesman said the supermarket was just countering the myth.
"Chicken in Australia has not been treated with hormones for over 40 years. However, there is still a widespread misconception among customers that they do. In fact in July last year, chicken producer Steggles commissioned a Newspoll study among 1000 people that showed that 76 per cent still believed that hormones and/or steroids were used in chicken production."
So why isn’t Coles leading the formation of public perception instead of blindly following? Because there’s a buck to be made.
Coles Supermarkets is an Australian supermarket chain owned by Wesfarmers. It has 742 stores nationally and more than 93,000 employees. Coles currently has the second-largest market share behind Woolworths Supermarkets.
Coles is now using celebrity chef thingy Curtis Stone to push its ‘No Bull’ campaign, which proclaims all beef sold at Coles is free of hormone growth promotants, or HGPs – supplements of naturally occurring hormones that reduce farming costs because they cause cattle to produce more beef from less feed.
Meat and Livestock Australia, which acts on behalf of 47,000 meat producers, said Coles’ marketing strategy could frighten consumers into thinking beef from cattle raised on growth-promoting hormones was unsafe, despite years of scientific testing showing it posed no risk.
The group told The Sunday Age it was too early to tell if customers had stopped buying beef from retailers other than Coles, but if the industry was forced to stop using hormones due to unwarranted fear, ramifications could be widespread.
Victorian Farmers Federation president Andrew Broad said, “They’re creating a monster in the mind of consumers that this is bad … when the reality is there are no health risks with HGPs. The campaign implies that there’s some chemical being pumped into the beef, which is just a nonsense.”
Never go with the no-risk message. There are always risks, but these are miniscule compared with the risks of dangerous microorganisms associated with beef. I’m still waiting for someone to step up and market microbial food safety – so there’s fewer sick people out there.
Simon Berger of Woolworths, rightly dismissed the campaign as “a supermarket gimmick that will be bad for the environment and bad for Australian farmers,” and that it would not follow Coles’ hucksterism.
“We have absolute confidence in the Australian beef industry … We have no plans to dictate to them how it’s produced. Removing technology means you need more cattle, eating more food, on more land, producing more methane over more time to produce the same beef. Someone will pay for that – either farmers or customers, as well as the environment.”
Coles spokesman Jim Cooper defended the campaign, and stressed that Coles wasn’t saying HGP-raised beef was unsafe, it was saying that HGP-free beef was of a higher quality and tasted better, adding, “We are doing what we need to do to improve the quality of beef we sell to customers and that’s all this is about for us.”
CSIRO Professor Alan Bell confirmed there was no proof that HGPs in beef posed a health threat to consumers. But a recent CSIRO study, published in the journal Animal Production Science, supports Coles’ assertion that HGP-free beef is more tender. The study found the hormones had a ”negative influence” on tenderness, taste and quality.
HGPs have been used in Australia since 1979, and about 40 per cent of cattle are now implanted with slow-release HGPs, which add an estimated $210 million in production gains to the Australian beef industry each year.
The group said the amount of hormones found in HGP-raised beef was far lower than the level of hormones naturally occurring in many foods. One egg contained about the same amount of estrogen as 77 kilograms of beef.