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Our Quality Standards: No Added Hormones*

As our Farm Animal Quality Standards Coordinator, Liz focuses intently on animal welfare. She works with farmers and ranchers, visiting farms all over the country and taking some awesome photos along the way. First off, none of the meat Whole Foods Market sells comes from animals raised with added hormones. Period. No exceptions. We know that using hormones in meat production can be a controversial and confusing issue. Let’s break it down and explain.

As our Farm Animal Quality Standards Coordinator, Liz focuses intently on animal welfare. She works with farmers and ranchers, visiting farms all over the country and taking some awesome photos along the way.

First off, none of the meat Whole Foods Market sells comes from animals raised with added hormones. Period. No exceptions.

We know that using hormones in meat production can be a controversial and confusing issue. Let’s break it down and explain.

Cattle with white faces | Photo by Liz Fry

The How and Why of Adding Hormones

Adding hormones bulks up the animal more quickly than when they eat food alone. That means it takes less time and cost for the producer to get their animals to market.

Pellets of natural, synthetic or plant-based hormones are implanted under the skin and slowly dissolve, pushing the animal toward faster maturation. Growth rate can be accelerated by 10% to 20%, and cost of production decreased by 5% to 10%, according to the Iowa Beef Center at Iowa State University.

That’s a strong incentive for producers. And as producers keep their costs down, they pass some of those savings along to consumers in the form of low-cost beef.

The Animals

While you may see a variety of claims out there, cattle and sheep are the only animals for which the USDA permits added hormones. They are prohibited for all other meat animals.

That means there is no added hormone use allowed for any poultry, pigs, bison, goat, or any other species besides cattle or sheep (lamb).

Nobody I have talked to is quite sure why hormones are allowed in sheep production since lamb is the product of a young animal, and hormone use would be illogical.

So, pretty much the sole use of added hormones is in cattle production.

Bull face | Photo by Liz Fry

Hormone Use on a Label or Sign

Since a lot of people don’t know which animals are raised with added hormones, customers tend to ask about all types of meat. To help, in the US, you’ll see signs or labels that say “No added hormones” referring to meat other than beef or lamb. In this case, the USDA requires this disclaimer: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones when raising pigs or poultry (or goat or bison, etc.)”

Sometimes you may see packages or signs claiming “Hormone Free.” That can’t possibly be true — all animals have naturally occurring hormones. If they didn’t, they couldn’t grow. Heck, even plants have hormones, so it’s simply the wrong way to say it.

The issue is whether there were any extra hormones used in raising the animal. That’s why you’ll see “no added hormones” on the signs in our stores.

What Are the Concerns Regarding Hormone Use?

While the jury is out on a direct connection of hormone use in animals to health issues in humans, many of our customers are concerned about the presence of hormones in animal production. We simply don’t think that using added hormones in animal production is necessary.

It does cost more for a producer to grow their cattle without added hormones. We think the extra time is worth it.

When Whole Foods Market first began to sell meat in 1981, our customers let us know they wanted meat from animals that were raised without the crutch of added hormones. So, for the last 34 years we’ve been providing beef that meets our standard of no added hormones.

Is added hormone use a concern for you? Do you have any questions that we didn’t cover?

*Per the USDA requirement the title of this blog post requires us to make this disclaimer: Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones when raising pigs or poultry (or goat or bison, etc. -- any species except cattle and sheep.) Like we just explained. 

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