Hormonal growth promotants in beef
(Last updated March 2011)
Hormonal growth promotants (HGPs) are naturally occurring hormones such as oestrogen, or synthetic alternatives, which are used in cattle to accelerate weight gain.
HGPs— used safely in Australia for more than 30 years—are used on about 40 per cent of Australian cattle and annually add $210 million to the value of the beef industry.
The hormones come in small implants placed under the skin on the back of the ear, slowly releasing a low dosage, usually over 100 to 200 days, depending on the product used.
In Australia HGPs are approved, registered and regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) , which ensures they are safe for consumers, not harmful to animals and effective when used according to label instructions.
More information about the assessment process for chemicals in food is available in the APVMA's Chemicals and Food Safety fact sheet.
How do we know HGPs are safe?
The APVMA conducts a thorough safety assessment and evaluation before any HGP can be used in beef production in Australia. This assessment reflects public health standards set by the Department of Health and Ageing and provides instructions on how to use HGPs to ensure that people eating beef can do so safely over their lifetimes.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s National Residues Survey facilitates testing of animal and plant products for pesticide and veterinary medicine residues and environmental contaminants. The department’s 2009-10 survey found that residues of HGPs in Australian beef were 100% compliant with Australian standards.
According to research by the European Federation of Animal Health, a single consumer would need to eat more than 77 kilograms of beef from an HGP-treated beast in one sitting to get the same level of oestrogen hormone found in one egg.
Why is FSANZ involved?
FSANZ is also involved in safety assessments, ensuring that dietary exposure to any residues is within health-based guidance values established by the Office of Chemical Safety and Environmental Health. FSANZ also incorporates maximum residue limits set by the APVMA into the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.
Why are HGPs used?
They improve the efficiency by which cattle convert stockfeed into meat, allowing cattle to be processed earlier with less stock feed consumed. HGPs applied to cattle in Australia contain naturally occurring hormones (oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone) or synthetic hormones (trenbolone acetate and zeranol).
HGPs are registered for use in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada, South Africa and Japan. The European Union (EU) has banned their use and will not import products from cattle given HGPs. In 1998 the World Trade Organization found the EU's ban was not supported by science and was inconsistent with its WTO obligations, but it remains in place.