Monday, August 18, 2008

Organic vs hormone free

When Heather was pregnant with Anna, we changed our eating habits to do better at staying away from foods with artificial hormones. We began by simply eating organic foods. But, our budget was severely affected at a time that we were preparing to lose one salary. So, we started to research and eat hormone free products...and I learned some things just now doing research...

One of the first things we began eating was Tyson chicken as they advertised it being steroid and hormone free. However, I recently saw this:

The campaign so stirred up two rivals that they complained to the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division. Perdue Farms Inc. and Gold 'n Plump Poultry Inc. contended that the ads were misleading, since federal regulations prohibit any commercial grower from adding hormones or steroids to chicken products.

And this:

You mention that the eggs you are asking about are produced without added hormones. That sounds nice, but it means nothing. Tyson Foods, the world's largest poultry producer, also brags in its ads that its products are "hormone free." Hormone-free labels are meaningless when it comes to eggs and other U.S. poultry products because - although hormones are nearly universal in U.S. beef production - no hormones are currently approved for use in U.S. egg or poultry production.

So, I learned something here...eggs and poultry are all steroid and hormone free in the US. The bigger thing for poultry is being antibiotic free or you may actually be eating some antibiotics unnecessarily. From the articles I read, Tyson chicken is not antibiotic free.

Meanwhile, we tried for the first time hormone free milk. We bought local Hunter Farms, owned by local grocery store Harris Teeter, milk as it claims to be hormone (rBGH, recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rbST, recombinant Bovine Somatotropin) free rather than the $1.50/gallon more organic. Are there similar concerns about things beyond this hormone? I know the other overwhelming difference from Organic would be the chemicals in the feed. But are there things to worry about otherwise?

After considerable research, you can find a lot of information that seems like it might be sponsored by those making rBGH trying to claim there is no difference. I thought this blog was interesting:

The study looked specifically at three label claims related to dairy-cow management: conventional milk, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST)-free milk and organic milk. The recent trend in misleading food labeling based on agricultural management prompted the study.
While minor differences were observed for the three labels, the differences were not “biologically meaningful.” The authors of the study (including me) concluded that label claims “were not related to any meaningful differences in the milk compositional variables measured.” The only difference among conventional, rbST-free and organic milk is price, according to the study, with milk labeled rbST-free or organic selling for anywhere from $1 to $4 more per gallon than conventional milk.

In general, that last blog is a wealth of information about food fact versus fiction...but whether the studies it quotes are sponsored by special interests or not is the tough part. I think that having had my father involved in pharmaceutical research as I grew up, I learned that many studies were sponsored by those with a particular agenda. To do this, they may tweak the parameters of the study to prove something they want to prove. So, who can you trust? Well, something else I learned from my dad was that you can trust studies done by the National Institutes of Health which provides oversight and funding for specific studies which attempt to keep them neutral to begin with. Check out this NIH study:

We substituted most of children's conventional diets with organic food items for 5 consecutive days and collected two spot daily urine samples, first-morning and before-bedtime voids, throughout the 15-day study period. We found that the median urinary concentrations of the specific metabolites for malathion and chlorpyrifos decreased to the nondetect levels immediately after the introduction of organic diets and remained nondetectable until the conventional diets were reintroduced.
In conclusion, we were able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agricultural production. We also concluded that these children were most likely exposed to these organophosphorus pesticides exclusively through their diet.

So, a simple study proving that organic diets do successfully keep children away from pesticides. Here is the complete research publication if you want to read it.

Checking into the rBGH related information, I found these articles. If I was going to summarize them, the first is a FDA study that states that "Recombinant bGH treatment produces an increase in the concentration of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) in cow's milk." The second study from a Cancer prevention group states "that increased IGF-1 levels are risk factors for breast and colon cancer." Another study from Harvard stated that this IGF-1 is linked to prostate cancer. Meanwhile, one recent NIH study on IGF-1 and cancer was inconclusive while another leaned towards there being some correlation but was also inconclusive.

So, it seems to me the thing to do would be:
1) In eggs/poultry avoid unnecessary antibiotics
2) In milk/beef avoid rBGH as it may increase IGF-1 levels which can increase the risk of cancer.
3) Go for organics if you are worried about pesticide levels in your body.

Any other useful info?


Coffee Lover said...

That is very interesting information. I learned a few things today already! :)

Pamela said...

thank you for posting this information!