EFSA concludes review of new scientific data on potential risks to human health from certain hormone residues in beef

EFSA was asked by the European Commission (EC) to assess any new scientific evidence that emerged since the last risk assessment in 2002[1] relating to the use of certain natural and synthetic growth promoting hormones (GPH) in cattle. EFSA’s Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM) concluded that there are no grounds to call for revision of previous risk assessments.

Growth promoting hormones are used to increase the weight gain of cattle. However, they are not permitted in Europe because of concerns about possible health risks from residues in the meat and other edible parts of these animals.

The Panel concluded that whilst more sensitive analytical techniques have been developed to identify and quantify the presence of GPH, these techniques have not been widely used. Hence there is a lack of data on the type and amount of GPH residues in meat on which to make a quantitative exposure assessment. Consequently it is not possible to assess the significance of the large scale use of hormones in relation to many epidemiological studies that indicate a correlation between eating red meat and certain hormone-dependent cancers.

EFSA’s CONTAM Panel further concluded that new data published since 2002 confirm and extend the understanding of the effects of GPHs. However, these new data available to EFSA do not provide any quantitative information that would change the understanding of the possible risks to human health associated with residues of GPH substances in meat and meat products. Consequently the Panel concluded that there are no grounds to call for revision of the previous risk assessments.

The Panel also noted that new data indicated an association between the large-scale beef cattle production using hormones, and undesirable effects in wild fish species living in rivers that are exposed to waste water originating from these farms.

EFSA made a call for any new data on the issue and the Panel used the submitted data together with data published in the scientific literature for its opinion. This opinion will now inform any future thinking by the EC and Member States in relation to restrictions on the use of these hormones in cattle.

[1] The Scientific Committee of Veterinary Measures Relating to Public Health´s (SCVPH) most recent conclusions, in 2002, reaffirmed public health concerns about the large scale use of hormones administered to cattle for growth promoting purposes. This risk assessment and previous reports in 1999 and 2000 provided the scientific basis for community legislation not allowing the use of hormones for growth promoting purposes in the EU

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