Do I even need to explain why this is wrong?
A bulletin from the Penn State Ag Extension recommends "growth-promoting implants," complete with the preceding picture, as an answer to help family cattle farms make more money from their beef. I had to get over my initial sickening just to read their argument in favor of this procedure. It was, of course, purely economic -- implants cost just $2.74 and result in an average difference in feedlot weight gain of 56 lbs! This is an opportunity to earn more than $45 extra on every steer sent to slaughter! The potential impacts on the poor young animal's development, other than increased carcass weight, are not even mentioned. Animal welfare aside, the effect on young people of eating beef from cattle raised with these implants hasn't even been studied, as near as I can tell. Even though a Texas Tech University study found that the implants increase the levels of estrogen in the treated animals, and multiple studies have shown that excess estrogens can cause early sexual development and other problems in growing children -- I'm sure, as industry would like you to believe, that it's perfectly safe. Aren't you convinced?
If you buy beef from the grocery store in the United States, chances are good that you're consuming this stuff, since labeling isn't required. As a matter of fact, the USDA and the FDA are so convinced that it's safe, our government took the EU to the World Trade Organization Dispute Settlement Body to argue that their ban on treated beef imports was an "unfair trade barrier." The EU argued that banning it is a basic question of food safety, and therefore permitted under trade rules. Funny how the same scientific data can be interpreted so differently on opposite sides of the pond.
What boggles my mind about the Ag Extension bulletin is that it's brought up as a solution to chronically low commodity beef prices. Farmers raising beef in Pennsylvania can expect to receive around $1.60/lb for their whole year's effort in a cow/calf operation. But a quick survey of the information available at EatWild.com shows that organic, grass-fed beef is selling direct to Pennsylvania consumers for between $6 and $10/lb. Now, I do realize that this consumer price doesn't take into account the increased cost of fencing, land, hay, and such when you're finishing your own cattle on pasture rather than selling them to a feedlot. But I would certainly think that if you knew you could get almost ten times the price selling grass-fed beef direct to the consumer, you wouldn't be tempted to consider freakish things like implanting hormones beneath the skin of your calves. Wouldn't you?