Questions raised over beef hormone safety

EU - Evidence showing that levels of hormones in beef previously believed to be safe could in fact trigger sexual abnormalities in babies and cause cancer has been deliberately withheld from government ministers, according to a leading environmental charity.
calendar icon 16 November 2006
clock icon 2 minute read

The Soil Association is now demanding the immediate reintroduction of a hormone testing programme on imported beef, particularly in the light of recent revelations over the use of hormones on a Brazilian beef farm.

The charity claims that there have been ‘blatant attempts’ by government advisers to block scientific concerns about the use of hormones in beef. New research from Denmark has shown that even at low levels, previously thought to be safe, there can be up to five times the amount of oestradiol in hormonetreated beef compared with untreated beef. This can be enough to increase the incidence of genital abnormalities in baby boys, lower the age of puberty in girls and increase the risk of certain cancers in later life.

The veterinary products committee, which advises the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has submitted a report to parliamentary secretary Ben Bradshaw on the safety of hormone growth promoters in cattle. However, committee member John Verrall has been been prevented from passing on his concerns to the government about hormone levels. Under the rules of the committee, individual members cannot pass on minority concerns without majority approval. Although other members of the committee voted with Mr Verrall there was no overall majority.

The VPC report is expected to conclude that the risk to the public from hormonally active substances in treated animals would not be measurable. However, citing the new research, Mr Verrall said: ‘There is clear evidence of the risk to human health posed by these hormones.’

Soil Association policy adviser Richard Young said: ‘It seems the attitudes of the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from mad cow disease days persist on in the VPC. It is totally unacceptable that the body that assesses the risks to the public from drugs used on farm animals is still governed by such outdated procedures.’ Mr Young called on Defra to review its advisory committees.

Mr Verrall has reportedly offered his resignation to the VPC, which the has not been accepted. Mr Young said that this shows ‘signs of a back-track’, considering Mr Verrall had broken the committee’s rules by going public with his concerns.

The VPC declined to comment, and referred the matter to Defra. A Defra spokesperson said that it would be ‘inappropriate’ for a government department to comment on the procedures of an independent body.

John Verrall’s minority report is available from the Soil Association and the Food Ethics Council website at News Desk
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