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Hormones and antibiotics in food production

Hormones and antibiotics are used in food production in Canada.  These additives help animals grow and reduce the threat of disease in food products. Read on to learn more about growth hormones and antibiotics and why they are a safe part of our food system.





What are growth hormones and antibiotics?

Growth hormones can be natural or synthetic (man-made). They are used to increase lean tissue growth while reducing fat in animals. The result is a healthier product produced at a lower cost for the consumer.

Antibiotics can be used to treat illness in animals and prevent disease. They work by reducing growth or killing bacteria harmful to the health of animals and humans. This results in food products that are disease-free.


Foods that contain growth hormones and antibiotics

In Canada, growth hormones are only given to beef cattle (and not dairy cattle). There are no growth hormones used in poultry or pork production.

Antibiotics, on the other hand, are used more often. They may be used in poultry, pork and fish that are being raised for food. Antibiotics may also be sprayed on fruit and given to honey bees.

For animal products, if a cow is treated with antibiotics because of an infection, the milk they produce while being treated is not sold. When hens are given antibiotics, the eggs they lay are thrown away.


Growth hormone and antibiotic levels are monitored for safety

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regularly tests food to make sure that antibiotic and hormone levels are safe for humans. These levels have been determined by Health Canada. If foods contain antibiotic and hormone levels that are too high, the foods may be removed or recalled from the food supply. Both domestic and imported foods are tested for food safety.


The impact on your health

There have been recent concerns with the impact of growth hormones and antibiotic use on human health. 

You may be worried that hormones in animal products may cause cancer or other harmful effects. So far, there has been no evidence that has shown that animals treated with growth hormones are a threat to human health. As a result, growth hormones are approved for use in Canada.

Overuse of antibiotics both in humans and animals to treat or prevent infections has caused concern about antibiotic resistance in humans. As bacteria become resistant, it will become more difficult to prevent and treat infections. The Canadian government is taking an active role to stay up to date with the scientific evidence on antibiotic resistance.


Reducing exposure with your food intake

Although growth hormones and antibiotics are considered safe for food production in Canada, consider the following tips to reduce your exposure to these additives:

  • Organic foods have fewer traces of antibiotics than non-organic foods.
  • Since beef cattle are the only animals that contains growth hormones, consider choosing organic beef instead of conventional beef when you can.
  • Dairy cattle do not receive growth hormones so you do not need to limit conventional milk or milk products.
  • Thoroughly wash all vegetables and fruit for thirty seconds under running tap water to minimize the intake of antibiotics.

You may also be interested in:

Cooking with Beef

Cooking with Pork

Cooking with Poultry

Organic Foods and Growing Methods FAQ 


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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.