Hormone growth promotants
Hormone growth promotants (HGPs) help farmers increase the productivity of certain types of cattle, and provide consumers with safe and wholesome beef using fewer resources. They help reduce the cost of production and improve the affordability of beef for consumers.
What exactly are HGPs?
A HGP is either a supplement of hormones that naturally occur in all cattle - oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, or an analogue which supplements their action to stimulate growth. They come in the form of small implants placed under the skin on the back of the ear, slowly releasing a low dosage over a period of time - usually 100 to 200 days, depending on the product used.
How widely are HGPs used?
HGPs have been used in the Australian beef industry for over 30 years. About 40 per cent of Australian cattle are raised using HGPs. Approximately two-thirds of Australian beef is exported overseas.
What are the hormone levels in beef from cattle given HGPs?
There is negligible difference in the hormone levels found in beef from cattle that have been given HGPs compared to cattle that have not.
The level of natural hormones found in beef from cattle given HGPs is much lower than for many common foods such as soybean oil, cabbage and eggs eg one egg contains about the same level of oestrogen as 77kg of beef from cattle raised with HGPs.
Are HGPs safe?
Yes. Because HGPs are supplements of naturally occurring hormones, they are safe for human consumption.
A 2003 report by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing (Therapeutic Good Administration) has declared that 'there is unlikely to be any appreciable health risk to consumers from eating meat from cattle that have been treated with HGPs according to Good Veterinary Practice'.
The use of HGPs in Australia is approved and regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which provides assurance that they are safe for consumers and not harmful to animals.
Do HGPs alter the quality of beef?
There are many factors that affect the quality of beef and it is difficult to quantify the exact influence of any one of them taken in isolation. Some of these factors include the breed of the cattle, their age, the fat content, the way the beef is processed and, of course, the cut and the way it is cooked.
Research into eating quality has found that HGPs can have a small impact on several cuts - namely sirloin and scotch fillet. However, this effect can be managed by the use of simple techniques like ageing beef a little longer and different methods of hanging the carcase.
The Australian beef industry has utilised these techniques for many years to further improve the eating quality of Australian beef.
Why are they used?
HGPs improve the growth rate of cattle and help them convert feed to meat more efficiently. Being able to produce more beef from less feed means farmers can increase their productivity, lessen their impact on the environment and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
The Australian beef industry produces about 2.3 million tonnes of beef a year. If HGPs were not used, the Australian cattle herd would need to increase by an estimated seven per cent or more than 2 million head to produce the same amount of beef. That would mean having to use more resources such as water and feed, and a higher cost of production.
Are HGPs used internationally?
HGPs are currently registered for use in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa and Japan. However, the European Union (EU) has banned their use and the import of products from cattle given HGPs since 1998.
The EU position is contrary to overall international scientific opinion. Reviews and evaluations by leading world health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Australia's Department of Health and Ageing have found no evidence to support the ban. In 1998 the World Trade Organisation found the EU's ban was not supported by science and was inconsistent with its WTO obligations.