A UAE food regulator has said hormone-treated meat is safe to eat as long as the hormone residue level is below the maximum limit.
The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) said the levels in the UAE must be below those recommended by the “Maximum Residue Limits [MRLs] for Veterinary Drugs in Food”.
The Technical Regulation standard is governed by the federal Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA).
ADFCA was responding to an inquiry by Gulf News about the local governance of hormone-added meat.
The US, Canada and a number of other countries allow beef from hormone-fed cattle but the European Union bans it outright, regardless of residue levels.
There is debate among experts on how safe such meat is for human consumption.
In the UAE, hormone-added meat is legal and safe to eat as long it meets the conditions on it, outlined in the ESMA document.
ADFCA said the standard is consistent with the recommendation of the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives administered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN.
The standard lists the MRLs and Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) limits for a list a substances and hormones used in meat.
Hormones are found naturally in animals and humans, helping in the normal growth process. Some farmers administer hormones to animals to make them grow faster and bigger, increasing the amount of meat that can be sold.
ADFCA said: “The use of hormonal active growth promoters… in farm animals can increase the production of veal and beef significantly up to 15 per cent. These can be used as feed additives or as treatments in the livestock where the growth promoters or production aid or any other veterinary drugs have to be used in accordance with good animal husbandry practice.”
It added: “The levels of hormone residues in meat has to be below the Maximum Residue Limit as recommended by UAE.S CAC/MRL 2 :2013… which is consistent with recommendation of the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee of Food Additives. These residues are unlikely to pose a hazard to human health.”
Despite the safeguards, some consumers prefer “no added hormones” meat. Following interest from customers in this line of products, UAE supermarket chain Spinneys, for instance, now only sells no-added hormones meat.
Dubai-based Marcela Manon, Certified Health Coach, M.Sc., Holistic Nutrition, said bovine growth hormones are “a legitimate worry” as “hormone residues in food can impact human health adversely by increasing the risk of breast cancer and other reproductive system cancers among women and may promote development of prostate cancer in men.”
She added that “contrary to most people’s beliefs, not all commercially raised animals — cattle, sheep, and poultry — are fed hormones as growth promoters. In fact, most countries do not permit the use of hormones in raising chickens, turkeys and other fowl.
“However, hormones are still commonly used as growth promoters in cattle and sheep. It’s estimated that two-thirds of the cattle we eat today are given hormones, usually testosterone or oestrogens, to boost growth.”
Manon said “buying hormone-free meat and dairy products can be expensive and not an easy alternative in the UAE.”
Spinneys, for example, believes it could be the sole UAE food retailer stocking only no-added hormones meat. It did not increase the price after introducing the new option.
The retailer announced the launch of its no-added hormones meat across all its stores in the UAE in March.
“All the meat sold at Spinneys including beef, chicken, pork and lamb, is now free from added hormones making Spinneys the first food retailer to implement this one of its kind initiative in the UAE,” it said.
The move followed “growing concerns from customers regarding additives in food… A range of scientific studies have confirmed [hormone growth promotants] can adversely impact the eating quality of meat.”
Colette Shannon, Communications Manager, Spinneys UAE, said: “Spinneys are focused on sourcing from producers who follow a more natural approach in farming practices. And by switching to hormonal growth promotants-free meat, we offer our customers the best in quality, taste and welfare.”