You might be reading this title thinking, “what hormones?”, and it’s true – ‘hormone free’ is not quite as trendy a catch phrase as ‘organic’, ‘gluten free’ or even ‘pesticide free’, and many people might not be aware of this niche. However, hormones present in our diet can have quite negative and far reaching effects.
So where do the hormones come from? Well, mainly from conventionally farmed animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. In our modern day society, a lot of emphasis is placed on more, with consumers wanting more for their money, more to eat, just more in general. In order to cater for demand, farmers may use hormones. Meat animals such as cows or pigs may be injected with hormones to make them grow faster, resulting in higher turnover and less input required of the farmer – they can produce more for less, which is cheaper for them, and therefore cheaper for the consumer. Dairy cattle may also be injected with hormones which increase their milk production, so the farmer can increase their milk yield without increasing their herd. Hormones may also be used to ensure a consistent product.
There are differing views on the safety of these hormones and the extent to which they remain in the end product, however a key point is that in terms of human development and modern society, hormones are a very new addition – beginning as recently as the second half of last century. We are still discovering what they can do for farm animals, let alone what effect they may have on consumers. However, some negative consequences are becoming clearer every year.
- Think of the animals. The use of hormones certainly raises the issue of ethics. Injecting cattle with hormones over and above their natural levels can have negative side effects, from behavioural changes to swelling, which signify poor welfare. Greater milk output (and therefore nutrient loss) may also result in malnutrition or malnourishment, meaning farmers need to use antibiotics – and these can end up in our food too!
- Think of the environment. Excess hormones may be excreted, leaving them to soak into the soil and wash into waterways. From there, they can affect many other plants and animals which certainly won’t benefit from added hormones.
- Think of yourself. Some residue may remain in the meat or dairy of hormone treated animals, and while the effects remain somewhat unclear, there have been links to early puberty, developmental and reproductive difficulties, and even some forms of cancer. Even with plenty more evidence yet to be gathered, it is clear that hormone residues are not something our bodies are used to processing. Not knowing exactly what is going into our systems is not a great way to nourish our health and wellbeing.
In our consumption driven society, economic benefit can overshadow potential negative effects of something like hormone injection. However, just from our brief overview it should be fairly evident that hormones are really an unknown that we are introducing to our bodies. Try making the switch to hormone free animal products, and feel better about your health and your impact!