By Randall Mallette
In recent years, there’s been a sharp rise in the number of products on store shelves that boast “organic”,” all-natural”, or “no-GMO” on their labels. The food we eat, especially the animal products, are constantly being scrutinized for their content, and often, good animal products get pushed aside for products whose labeling includes a key word or words such as “all-natural.” In this article, I am going to focus strictly on the use of hormones in chicken production. Before continuing, I want to clarify that this article is strictly informational and is not meant to condemn or condone any management practices used in the raising of livestock or poultry. All information used here is research-based.
You can go to the meats section in any grocery store and find a package of chicken that says “No Added Hormones.” If you really read the label on that package though, you will find a sentence in much less obvious lettering explaining that the use of hormones in poultry production is prohibited in the United States. This has been the case since the 1950s, yet the frivolous and misleading statement of “No Hormones Added” on the package still sells chicken. The use of growth hormones in pork, dairy cattle, and veal calves is also prohibited. Growth hormones are allowed in beef, but I will cover that in a later article. The common misconception is that since chickens have increased in size drastically over the past few decades, there must be hormones being injected to produce this growth. However, selective breeding is largely responsible for the increased growth rates and resulting size of our poultry. Hormone use in poultry production is also not economical or practical, due to the number of injections per bird per day that would be required. Additionally, administering hormones to chickens could potentially cause leg problems due to the increased growth, resulting in losses to the producer. You may be thinking, “So if hormones aren’t injected, they could still be added to the feed.” That is not the case though. Hormones have two chemical forms: the protein form and the steroid form. Growth hormones fall under the protein category. Steroid hormones can be taken orally because they are not broken down during digestion. Protein hormones get broken down during digestion and therefore do not get the chance to act on the body. Since growth hormones are protein hormones, they cannot be feed additives (Publication 2767, Mississippi State University).
Now, despite the fact that hormones are not used in chicken production, there may still be measurable levels of hormones in the meat we eat. Hormones are produced naturally in the chicken’s body, just like in ours. Naturally occurring hormones in chickens still find their way into the fat and meat of the end product. In the table below you can see the comparative amounts of estrogen in chicken and other food products, compared to the natural amounts produced in normal humans daily.
(SEE CHART BELOW)
Knowing this, shop smart. When you shop, don’t set aside a poultry product because it doesn’t say “No Hormones Added”. Remember that all poultry raised or sold in the U.S. has no added hormones, whether the label claims it or not, and has been for decades. For more information on this topic, I encourage you to read a publication by the Mississippi State Extension Service entitled “Chickens Do Not Receive Growth Hormones: So Why All the Confusion?”. It can be found at https://extension.msstate.edu/sites/default/files/publications/publications/p2767.pdf.
For more information contact Randall Mallette, County Agent, at the local LSU AgCenter Extension Office 318-357-2224. You can also visit us on the web at http://www.lsuagcenter.com or at 624 Second St, Natchitoches.
Cutline for Chart: Table taken from Publication 2767 by Dr. Tom Tabler, Jessica Wells, and Dr. Wei Zhai at Mississippi State University, Poultry Science. (1 gram = 1 billion nanograms)