FEARS that humans are at increased risk of cancer from eating beef from cattle fed growth hormones are being raised by a government adviser.
John Verrall, a pharmaceutical chemist and consumer representative on the Veterinary Products Committee, has refused to endorse a report by the committee that effectively says the hormones are safe.
“Over the last two years a number of important studies have shown that the information used by regulators to assess the safety of hormone residues in food has been wildly inaccurate,” he said. “It is now clear that very much smaller amounts of sex hormones in food than previously thought can cause genital abnormalities in baby boys, premature puberty in girls and increase the risk of cancers later in life.”
The hormone drugs have been banned in Europe for 20 years but they are still used in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Mexico and Chile. From this list of countries Britain imports beef from only Australia (4,700 tonnes a year), but it is believed the hormones are used illegally in other countries. The Government has not tested imports for the drugs for the past 18 months.
Calls for the Government to introduce urgent testing of meat for the hormones are being led by the Soil Association. Richard Young, policy adviser for the green lobby group, said: “Almost 40 per cent of the beef commissioned in the UK is imported yet it is not subjected to any- thing like the same level of residue testing as British beef.”
The Veterinary Products Committee’s report was finalised in January and concluded: “The weight of evidence at present available suggests that the likely levels of human exposure to hormonally active substances in meat from treated animals would not be sufficient to induce any measurable physiological effect.”
However, Mr Verrall insisted that he should be allowed to produce a minority report flagging his concerns and even threatened to resign. He criticised the committee for ignoring research that suggests there is no safe minimum threshold of growth hormone residue in meat. Scientists at Copenhagen Universityhave claimed that even tiny amounts of hormones eaten by pre-pubescent children can be harmful in the long-term.
Mr Verrall has been allowed now to publish his minority report: “There is clear evidence of the risk to human health posed by those hormones and there is no threshold dose-response for oestrogens,” it says.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs never comments on leaked official reports prior to publication.
The alert over the safety of beef imports coincides with a call by the National Farmers’ Union for a total ban on beef imports from Brazil after an
EU Food and Veterinary Office investigation that found lax regulations on the use of drugs in cattle and scant residue checks in meat.
The poor controls and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in parts of Brazil have already prompted the United States and Australia to ban Brazilian beef. Times Newspapers Ltd.