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Possible U.S. Beef Link To Cancer?

Alarm Raised As U.K. Report Is Expected To Declare Beef With Hormones Is Safe

Jul 3, 2006 |

A government expert in England has voiced concern that there is a link between growth hormones given to cattle in the United States and an increase in cancer, according to reports published in the United Kingdom on Monday.

Several newspapers including the London Daily Mail and London Times reported that John Verrall, a member of a government advisory committee, has defied an attempt to keep him from talking about his concerns.

Verrall told the Daily Mail that there is evidence that growth hormones can trigger breast and other cancers, among other things. He points to an increase in breast and prostate cancer in the U.S., where two-thirds of cattle are treated with hormones.

The European Union currently bans the use of growth and sex hormones to fatten cattle and speed their maturity, newspapers reported. The EU also bans imports of beef from the United States.

Verrall, a pharmaceutical chemist, was appointed to England's Veterinary Products Committee to represent consumer interests. He identified the problem hormones as oestradiol, testosterone, progesterone, zeranol, trenbolone and melegesterol acetate, according to the Daily Mail. The hormones are used speed the animals' development and maturity.

'There is clear evidence of the risk to human health posed by these hormones," Verrall told reporters.

Verrall said rate of breast cancer among women in the U.S. is 97 per 100,000. That compares with 67 per 100,000 in Europe. The rate of prostate cancer in men in the U.S. is 96 per 100,000 but only 37 per 100,000 in Europe, according to Verral.

The United States is trying to get the ban on U.S. beef imports lifted. Britain's Veterinary Products Committee was scheduled to publish a report this week that will declare that beef produced with hormones is safe, the newspapers reported. Verral has refused to endorse the report.

His concern was echoed by at least one U.S. expert.

Carlos Sonnenschein, from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, said that hormone residues appear to be the most likely cause of the onset of early puberty in young girls in recent decades.

The United States has maintained that U.S. beef from cattle treated with approved growth hormones poses no public health risk, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. It said that numerous scientific studies and evaluations, including those conducted by the European Union and CODEX, the international food safety standard setting body, have come to the same conclusion.

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