Hormones are given to dairy cows to produce more milk and beef cattle to accelerate weight gain. The goal is obviously to maximize production in the shortest amount of time. Hormones are hell on dairy cows, causing them to lactate practically round the clock, which is abusive, and the quality impact on beef cattle is huge. Forty years ago, Prime grade made up 6 percent of all beef carcasses graded. Today, that percentage is 1.5!
According to the owner of a very large cattle processor who is well respected in the beef industry here in the U.S., the reason for the reduction in cattle quality is directly related to the use of hormones. The cattle grow quicker but they put on more water weight. The amount of time required for the muscle to develop and the fat to intersperse during grain feeding is shortened by 35-50 percent thanks to hormones. The result is cheaper cattle for the most part. But it is absolutely less flavorful. And there is less highly marbled Prime cattle rising to the top, resulting in dramatically higher prices for Prime beef over choice.
Commodity cattle that are fed hormones are moved to a feedlot after as little as 9 months. There, they are given antibiotic-laced feed to keep them healthy while they adjust to a largely grain diet (that’s like you moving from a salad-based diet to an all-cheese diet overnight). These cattle are intensely fed for 75-100 days. Very efficient. Very cheap.
Naturally raised cattle are on pasture for 16-20 months before transferring to a low density feedlot where they are fed a mixed diet (dried grass/grain for 200 days in a naturally raised, clean program; 400 days for a wagyu program). It takes a lot longer to raise clean, healthy cattle, and this is why they cost more. But they taste a lot better and they marble better. Our naturally raised, clean beef program typically grades over 20 percent Prime, and that’s a lot more than commodity at 1.5 percent.
But the impact of hormones in our food system is becoming increasingly controversial. The practice is banned in Europe. The use of hormones in our food supply has been linked to the earlier onset of menstruation in young women in western societies over the last 40 years. (These dates coincide with the introduction of hormones as an additive/growth stimulant in dairy and beef cattle.) The issue with earlier onset of menstruation is that it is associated with a vastly greater incidence of cancer in women, breast and cervical.
And you thought Halloween was scary.
It's a must read for the fresh chef and consumers who like to eat. Which is everybody.