09 March 2006

Antibiotics and hormones

The use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock has been a controversial issue for many years. Read this brief outline of the most important issues.

The use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock has been a controversial issue for many years.

Here is a brief outline of the most important issues:

Hormones are sometimes fed to cattle to boost their growth rate and to increase milk production in cows.

While the European Union banned the use of growth hormones in livestock in 1988, the practice still continues in many other parts of the world, including South Africa and the United States.

The European ban originated from a scare in the early 1970s, which involved the illegal use of dethylstilboestrol (DES) in veal production in France. Rumours of teenagers displaying hormonal irregularities and cases of birth defects reported in parts of Europe led to panic among consumers.

Suspicions with regards to hormones in livestock production and a boycott of veal followed. Eventually, six hormones used in the production of beef were banned in Europe.

Further investigation showed that most of these hormones didn't present any harmful health effects when used under appropriate conditions. Investigators concluded that control programmes and monitoring systems for the appropriate use of these hormones were essential.

However, the topic remains controversial especially in terms of international trade of hormone-treated beef.

The use of antibiotics in livestock farming is essential to help prevent the widespread and devastating effects of diseases in herds.

In some cases, antibiotics are added to feed to promote growth. It has been shown that low residues of the drugs may build up in the fatty tissue, kidneys and liver of animals. However, these are not thought to pose any risk to human health.

The use of antibiotics in livestock has been suspected as one of the causes of the emergence of antibiotic-resistant species of bacteria, although the most common cause is poor drug management in the treatment of human health.

This, in turn, results in human illnesses that cannot be treated by traditional antibiotics.

Source: The European Food Information Council (


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