Hormones Injected/Fed To
Cattle Linked To Human
Cancer - Ban Called For
By Leanne Yohemas-Hayes
OTTAWA (CP) -- Dr. Samuel Epstein, an internationally recognized authority on the effects of hormones to promote cattle growth, is calling for an immediate moratorium on such use.
"There's very good experimental evidence relating estrogen (and other hormones) to reproductive cancers," Epstein, a professor from the school of public health at the University of Illinois, told a public forum on the safety of the Canadian food industry. "We have information going back for decades on that."
Added to feed or injected into cattle, natural sex hormones -- including estradiol, progesterone and testosterone -- help cattle grow larger.
Epstein said that he and other scientists have enough evidence to believe that eating meat with high hormone residues "constitutes a major risk for reproductive cancers, for breast cancer, prostate cancer and testes cancer."
In addition to the moratorium, Epstein called for a full public inquiry on the policies and conduct of Health Canada on natural sex hormones used in cattle for anything except therapeutic use.
Addressing a crowd of nearly 200 people, mostly scientists, doctors, veterinarians and Health Canada professionals, he called a recent report by the international authority on food safety, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), "scientifically invalid."
Based in Geneva, the JECFA is an international committee of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization that sets recommendations for governments on food safety, including hormones, antibiotics and feed additives given to animals.
Epstein said the new JECFA report contradicts previous testimony at the international level.
In 1997, experts denied there were excess residues of natural hormones in meat.
But in the February 1999 report, Epstein said JECFA admitted that residual hormones could damage genes and outlined what they called "acceptable daily intakes" or safe threshold tolerances.
However, Epstein says even this is problematic.
"They said that amount of estradiol eaten by a boy would be one-thousandths to one-millionths the amount of estradiol which he'd get from natural daily productions," said Epstein.
"We challenged this . . . and together with other data we can show that a young boy eating meat can have estradiol levels from the meat that are in excess of daily production levels."
Some studies have shown that excess hormones could cause cancer.
Even with the latest report no significant action has been taken prevent risk to consumers.
Canadians not only consume such hormones when they eat beef, said Epstein, they also consume them in byproducts.
The ears of slaughter cattle where the hormones are often injected contain high doses of residual hormones which, once manufacturered for gelatin and glycerol, are in other products including pills, candy and cosmetics. They are also found in pet food.
Officials with Health Canada said they don't have enough evidence to accept Epstein's call for a moratorium.
"On the science that we've seen in Canada to date, there is no scientific justification for a moratorium," said Karen Dodds, a spokeswoman for the department.
All hormones used in Canada to promote beef production undergo a safety assessment by Health Canada before they are approved for use, she said.
Health Canada says the department has previously studied Epstein's concerns.
"That information has been available in the scientific literature and has been a part of information we have reviewed," said Dodds.
But the Canadian Health Coalition, a non-partisan public health watchdog, said government cuts have decreased the amount of in-house scientific studies done by government departments.
Michael McBane, national co-ordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition, says Health Canada's research budget has been decimated.
His group is concerned industry will pick up the slack and research will favour whoever is paying for the study.
Dodds said the government announced $65 million dollars over three years for food safety, nutrition and health in the last budget.
"Some of those funds will go to ensuring that our science capacity is strong,"said Dodds. "Half of budget in research is in the food program."