Hormonal Growth Promotants (HGPs) are supplements of hormones that naturally occur in all cattle - oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These hormones are contained in silicone or compressed powder implants placed under skin on the back of the ear, releasing a low dose of hormone to the animal over the life of the implant.
Research trials have shown that animals treated with an HGP have increased weight gain of 10-30% over untreated animals depending on the HGP used and the quality of feed available to the animal. Although feed intake also increases, treated animals gain weight more efficiently. Being able to produce more beef from less feed means that farmers can increase productivity and minimise environmental impacts.
HGPs are available to all beef producers at many rural retail outlets. Producers who use them must identify treated animals with an ear mark and maintain purchase and use records in the event of a producer audit. HGPs are widely used in Northern Australian beef production. In NSW, however, HGPs are predominantly used in the feedlot industry, where increases in efficiency can have a marked impact on overall profitability. A small percentage of grass fattened cattle are treated in NSW.
There is a negligible difference in the hormone levels found in beef from treated and untreated cattle. The level of natural hormones found in beef from cattle treated with an HGP is much lower than for many common foods such as soybean oil, cabbage and eggs. For example, one egg contains about the same level of oestrogen as 77kg of beef from an animal treated with an HGP.
Yes. HGPs are supplements of naturally occurring hormones and are safe for human consumption. A 2003 report by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing (Therapeutic Goods Administration) declared that 'there is unlikely to be any appreciable risk to consumers from eating meat from cattle that have been treated with HGPs according to Good Veterinary Practice'.
The use of HGPs in Australia is approved and regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA), which provides assurance that they are safe for consumers and not harmful to animals.
The Meat Standards Australia grading scheme has shown that HGP use is just one of many factors, including the breed, sex, age and marbling potential of the animal plus nutritional levels and processing and cooking methods that can be managed to produce tender, juicy meat.
While research into eating quality as part of the MSA grading scheme has shown that HGPs can have an effect on tenderness of some cuts, including sirloin and scotch fillet, this effect can be managed by the use of techniques such as ageing the beef and tender stretching the carcase.
Essentially, HGP-treated cattle help Australian farmers produce more beef per animal for less feed. The growth rate of HGP-treated cattle is increased by 15-30%, feed conversion efficiency by 5-15% and this will decrease total lifetime greenhouse emissions.
HGPs are registered for use in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, South Africa and Japan.
The European Union has banned their use and also the import of products from treated cattle since 1998, although this is contrary to overall scientific opinion provided by the World Health Organisation and also the World Trade Organisation who found that the ban was not scientifically based.
The Australian beef industry produces about 2.3 million tonnes of beef a year. If HGPs were not used, the Australian cattle herd would need to increase by an estimated seven per cent, or more than 2 million head, to produce the same amount of beef.
This factsheet is based on an article available on the Meat & Livestock Australia website.