beef food label

Everyone can fall victim to marketing ploys, even future dietitians

As a Northern Illinois University dietetic intern, fellow interns and myself had the opportunity to visit a local cattle farm to learn more about the process beef goes through from farm to table. As a beef consumer, I was pretty oblivious to what actually happens on a cattle farm. The Adams Family Farm in Sandwich, Illinois, was gracious enough to host our group and show us around the farm, as well as inform us on the process of buying cattle, raising calves, feeding, caring for, and medicating if warranted before the cattle go to market.

During the tour of the farm, Alan Adams explained how there is a big misconception about both antibiotic use and hormone use in products such as beef. Unfortunately, consumers can unknowingly buy into the marketing ploys of products labeled “antibiotic free” and “hormone free.” Although antibiotic use is warranted in cattle, it is regulated, and not something consumers should worry about when choosing beef products. Adams explained that before an animal can even be sent to market, it must be antibiotic free for a regulated period of time. In the cattle business and at his farm, Adams explained that antibiotics are used for the sole purpose of treating sick animal, just as if we were to treat our own infections with prescribed antibiotics. It would be silly to think that the beef would still be affected by the antibiotics months later, as we know that our own bodies do not retain antibiotics months after treatment.

Similarly, there is also misconceptions about hormone use in meat products. The other interns and myself were quite surprised to learn that hormones are never used in pork and poultry. And although hormones are used in beef to increase growth, the amounts pale in comparison to other products that Americans are consuming on a daily basis. Alan Adams demonstrated the content of the hormone estrogen with use of M&Ms in mason jars. The first jar which contained a sliver of a single M&M demonstrated 1.9 nanograms of estrogen found in a 3 ounce serving of hormone-treated beef. The next jar was completely filled to thetop with M&Ms, representing the estrogen content of a small potato, which is 225 nanograms per 3 ounce serving. Lastly and most surprisingly, they discussed the estrogen content of one birth control pill. They explained that if the estrogen content were to be demonstrated in jars filled with M&Ms, it would take about 30 jars to represent the amount in a birth control pill, about 35,000 nanograms!

As a future dietitian and beef consumer, it was a great eye-opening experience to learn about the process of cattle farming and the beef industry. Many consumers, including myself, hear various nutrition claims and fall victim to marketing ploysdue to lack of awareness. I am very grateful for the opportunity to visit the cattle farm and feel more confident in the production and regulation of beef; not only as a consumer, but as a future dietitian. I am now aware of how both antibiotics and hormones are used, not abused, in the products we buy.

Angela Coltharp, NIU Dietetics Intern