Zeranol helps promote growth in different animals, but there are some guidelines for its use. It is a synthetic reproduction of its natural form, but the compound is not produced by the human body. The risks of consuming too much meat affected by this hormone can be mild (such as skin irritations) or severe (such as fertility problems).

The FDA assures that the use of this drug is safe in certain amounts. However, the U.S. meat industry could afford to stop using zeranol entirely. This is mainly because of the economy’s reliance on the amount of meat being sold each year. This goes to show how difficult it is to battle toxicity when multi-million dollar corporations depend on it.

cow looking out the window

What Is Zeranol?

Zeranol is a synthetic form of the natural compound zearalenone. This estrogenic compound acts much like the hormone estradiol. Zearalenone is found in contaminated animal feed sources such as corn silage and hay; this contamination is brought on by a fungus called Fusarium, an active producer of zearalenone. Zeranol is classified as a veterinary drug and is recognized by other names such as: Ralgro, ralone, zearanol, zearalanol, and xeranol.

A potent nonsteroidal growth promotor, it is generally used to aid in the rapid growth of animals such as cows and pigs. The drug is generally administered through an implantation in the ear. In 1956, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved hormone implants (containing estradiol), but it wasn’t until later that zeranol was used as a growth promotor. While the United States and Canada use this compound extensively, the European Union banned its use back in 1989.

Items that Contain Zeranol

Zeranol (commonly known as Ralgro) is used primarily to help cattle grow in a quicker rate. This drug helps each cow gain about two or three pounds more a weak than the untreated ones.

However, it is not recommended to use this synthetic hormone on calves as safety requirements have not been set. In addition to not treating calves, ranchers should also avoid implanting any animals designated for reproduction or animals used to provide dairy (so there shouldn’t be any significant amounts of the drug in milk products).

In addition to beef cattle, it is also used on feedlot lambs. The use of hormones with poultry is banned in the United States. Altogether, traces of the drug should only be found in the meat of cattle, lamb, and swine.

Dangers of Zeranol Exposure

Zearalenone has been associated with precocious puberty in young girls. Precocious puberty is a known risk factor for breast cancer. Similar to the natural hormone estradiol, zearalenone compounds also affect human breast tumor cells in vitro. The greatest health danger associated with zeranol consumption is damage to a woman’s unborn child. Listed below are the most common health risks associated with the consumption of animals dosed with the drug (items are listed from the least to the most common):

  • Carcinogenicity. It is suspected of causing cancer.
  • Organ toxicity. Prolonged or repeated exposure can cause damage to organs.
  • Respiratory tract irritation. A single exposure may cause respiratory irritation.
  • Serious eye and skin irritation. Zeranol may cause eye irritation (or damage) and skin irritation.
  • Reproductive toxicity. Zeranol may negatively affect an unborn child and ultimately damage fertility organs.

Still, hormonal growth promotants (HGPs) like zeranol have been used for years, adding millions of dollars to the meat industry, mostly the beef industry. Concerning the health risks, the FDA makes some assumptions. So long as the drug is used according its set guidelines, zeranol should do no significant damage to those consuming the animals dosed with it.

Are there Any Benefits of Zeranol?

There aren’t any significant benefits of eating meat affected by zeranol, but the FDA and other such agencies ensure that using growth promotors is a safe practice. Although there aren’t any health benefits to mention, it does allow for the continued growth of the meat industry, thus benefiting the economy. Many countries use zeranol and other growth promotors, but the European Union banned their use. In doing so, they also prohibited importation of meat products affected by the hormone.

In the late 1990s, almost bringing the United States and the European Union to the brink of a trade war, the World Trade Organization (WTO) found that the ban wasn’t consistent with WTO obligations. It was argued that the ban was not supported by scientific evidence, but throughout the 1990s, about ten percent of the meat analyzed had excessive amounts of these hormones. Perhaps this is why the ban in Europe remains in place.

Summing Up

There are potential dangers associated with excessive amounts of zeranol. The animals could be overdosed (naturally or intentionally), but the main concern should be on consuming too much of this meat. Two or three hamburgers could be considered excessive, especially for a ten-year-old. Which do you think is the bigger problem? Please address any questions or comments below.

Image from pixabay.com.