- Reuters) -- Fears about eating beef from
cattle pumped up with growth hormones have been raised by a government
expert. John Verrall said there is alarming evidence it can trigger breast
and other cancers, bring forward puberty in girls and increase the risk
of genital abnormalities in boys.
- Mr Verrall, a member of a Government
advisory committee, is so concerned that he has defied an official attempt
to gag him. He points to a rise in rates of breast and prostate cancer
in the U.S., where two-thirds of cattle are treated with hormones.
- The EU currently bans the use of growth
or sex hormones to fatten up cattle and speed their maturity. It also forbids
imports of American beef from the U.S. which is produced using an array
of hormones. But there are serious doubts whether the ban is being enforced,
as there is no testing of imports for tell-tale hormone residue.
- In any case, the U.S. government, with
the support of Tony Blair's administration, is trying to have the embargo
lifted. The Government's Veterinary Products Committee is due to publish
a report in the next few days which will declare that beef produced with
hormones is safe. This could clear the way for farmers in this country
to use growth hormone injections and speed the lifting of the ban on imports
of 'super-size' beef from the U.S.
- But Mr Verrall, a pharmaceutical chemist
who was appointed to the VPC to represent consumer interests, has refused
to sanction the all-clear. He wanted to publish a minority report to highlight
the dangers, but the committee, supported by the food and farming department
DEFRA headed by David Miliband, refused to allow it. Despite this, Mr Verrall
has decided to go public.
- The suspect hormones are oestradiol,
testosterone, progesterone, zeranol, trenbolone and melegesterol acetate.
Mr Verrall said: 'There is clear evidence of the risk to human health posed
by these hormones." He cited research showing that oestradiol is
considered a cancer risk. Work by a highly-respected Danish university
found that residues of oestradiol in treated beef were up to five times
higher than the levels in other cattle. The hormones can disrupt the natural
balance in the body, with the danger of multiple biological effects.
- 'Recent studies show that children are
extremely sensitive to some hormones'
- It has been claimed that eating treated
beef may cause girls to reach puberty earlier, thus making them more susceptible
to breast and other cancers in later life. For boys, there may be an increased
risk of prostate cancer.
- The presence of powerful female hormones
in the diet of pregnant women could effect the development of the genital
organs of boys. Mr Verrall said there is evidence of higher breast and
prostate cancer rates in the U.S., where most consumers regularly eat beef
from cattle injected with growth hormones.
- The rate of breast cancer among women
in the U.S. is put at 97 per 100,000 against 67 in Europe. Similarly the
rate of prostate cancer in men is 96 in America and only 37 in Europe.
- Mr Verrall said: 'Recent studies show
that children are extremely sensitive to some hormones which can cause
sudden growth or breast development, even at levels which are difficult
to detect in the laboratory. 'It is now clear that very much smaller amounts
of sex hormones in food than previously thought can cause genital abnormalities
in baby boys, premature puberty in girls and increase the risk of some
cancers later in life.
- The British Veterinary Association also
opposes the lifting of a ban on the use of growth hormones in this country.
It said last night that, given the health uncertainties, 'the European
ban seems the safer route to follow, particularly as there is no need,
other than economic gain, to use these hormones.'
- The Food Standards Agency has also made
clear that it would want a full safety review before the current ban on
the use of such hormones by British farmers and others in Europe is removed.
- The Soil Association last night condemned
the VPC's attempts to Richard Young, policy adviser at the Soil Association,
which supports organic farming, said the government's VPC had failed consumers
by not properly assessing the latest research on hormone effects. He called
for the resumption of testing of beef imports for hormone residues in order
to ensure consumers are not eating potentially harmful meat. Mr Young
said: 'We are particularly concerned that no imported beef has been tested
for oestradiol - or its metabolites. This serious failing must be addressed
as a matter of urgency.' He warned that the hormone testing regime for
beef imports is probably no better in most of the other EU countries than
it is in the UK.
- Around 39 per cent of the beef eaten
in Britain is imported. The bulk is from Ireland, but substantial quantities
also come from Brazil and Argentina, where controls over drugs and hormones
are not as strict.
- Concerns over hormone residues
- The imported meat is sold both fresh
and processed into corned beef. Some supermarkets have been stocking fresh
Brazilian beef and it is used widely in the catering and restaurant trade.
- There is also a concern that British
consumers could be at risk from eating beef when taking holidays in the
U.S. or other countries with comparatively lax controls.
- · Hormones have been used extensively
in the production of both beef and milk in the U.S. since the 1970s.
- They are essentially the male and female
sex hormones - oestrogen (oestradiol), testosterone and progesterone -
plus their synthetic equivalents. As many as two-thirds of cattle raised
in the U.S are treated with these hormones, through either injections or
implants. The effect of the drugs is to speed the animals' development
- But there are concerns that hormone residues
in the meat are having the same effect on people who eat it, with potentially
disastrous consequences. American researchers have noticed that the onset
of puberty in young girls has been moving forward in recent decades.
- Carlos Sonnenschein, from Tufts University
School of Medicine, in Boston, Massachusetts, said hormone residues appear
to be the most likely cause. He warned: 'Early onset of puberty with its
raging hormones translates into higher risk of breast cancer.' An expert
scientific panel to the US National Toxicology Program has also concluded
that all forms of oestrogen should be listed as 'known cancer-causing agents'.