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Health and Consumer Protection

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Growth Hormones in Meat Pose Risk to Consumers - Different Levels of Evidence

The use of six growth hormones 17ß-oestradiol, progesterone, testosterone, zeranol, trenbolone and melengestrol acetate (MGA) for growth promotion in cattle pose a risk to the consumers, but with different levels of conclusive evidence. This is the main finding of the Scientific Committee for Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health which has unanimously adopted an opinion on potential risks to human health from hormone residues in meat and meat products. The adverse effects include developmental, neurobiological, genotoxic and carcinogenic effects. These effects can be attributed to either the parent compound or the metabolites.

There is substantial recent evidence that the natural hormone 17ß-oestradiol has to be considered as a complete carcinogen, concluded the independent scientists. It exerts both tumour initiating and tumour promoting effects. In plain language this means that even small additional doses of residues of this hormone in meat arising from its use as a growth promoter in cattle has an inherent risk of causing cancer. The data available does not allow a quantitative estimate of the risk. For the other five hormones, particularly for MGA, the currently available information was considered inadequate for a quantitative assessment.

For all six hormones endocrine, developmental, immunological, neurobiological, immunotoxic, genotoxic and carcinogenic effects could be envisaged, but the available data do not enable a quantitative estimate of the risk. Even exposure to small levels of residues in meat and meat products carries risks and no threshold levels can be established for any of the six substances, stressed the experts. Of the various risk groups, prepubertal children are the group of greatest concern.

The Committee further emphasised that adequate residue control programs for each of the six hormones is essential to monitor legal and illegal use. It also stated that previous risk assessments relating to the use of these substances disregarded a number of important factors.

17ß-oestradiol, progesterone and testosterone are natural hormones, zeranol, trenbolone and melengestrol are synthetic products. These hormones are authorised for growth promotion purposes in some third countries.

The full scientific report will soon be available on the internet under the following address: http/ec.europa.eu/dg24/../../food/fs/sc/scv/index_en.html

The executive summary is already available.

Released on 17/05/99

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