Eric Schlosser: "Changing your eating habits can send ripples far and wide."
WHENEVER A WELL-KNOWN ATHLETE gets caught using anabolic steroids to run faster, pedal harder, or hit a baseball farther, there's a universal chorus of disapproval. Most Americans regard steroid use in sports as an unhealthy form of cheating. Under federal law, all performance-enhancing synthetic hormones are class III controlled substances; obtaining them without a prescription is a felony. Steroid users may suffer from a wide variety of physical and mental ailments, some of them irreversible--and the long-term effects of the drugs are unknown.
Meanwhile, for the past two decades, a number of the same steroids abused by athletes have been given to U.S. cattle on a massive scale. Without much publicity or government concern, growth hormones like testosterone are routinely administered to about 80 percent of the nation's feedlot cattle, accelerating their weight gain and making them profitable to slaughter at a younger age. The practice is legal in the United States but banned throughout the European Union, due to concerns about its effect on human health. A recent study by Danish scientists suggested that hormone residues in U.S. beef may be linked to high rates of breast and prostate cancer, as well as to early-onset puberty in girls. Hormone residues excreted in manure also wind up in rivers and streams. A 2003 study of male minnows downstream from one Nebraska feedlot found that many of them had unusually small testes. When female minnows in a laboratory were exposed to trenbolone--a synthetic hormone widely administered to cattle--they developed male sex organs.