Vet clarifies information shared in column

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Katie Meyer’s column in the April 10 Argus, which I just received yesterday, by the way. After reading one book about diethylstilbestrol (DES) she asks questions she should have asked before she wrote the column and makes false and misleading statements.

DES was banned in lambs and chickens long before it was banned in cattle because the time from birth to market in the first two is 3 to 6 months; whereas, it is 2-plus years in fed cattle. So, the time from treatment to slaughter (during which the DES would be eliminated from the meat) would also be much longer.

DES is not “readily available” but is a prescription drug of limited availability that is still sometimes used orally in small animals. Use of this product in cattle, even if it were able to be obtained, would not be economically profitable and probably not effective.

Katie says  DES is “readily available along with other legal growth hormones for livestock.” Bad punctuation makes it look like she thinks DES is still legal, but using the term “growth hormones” when that wording has been used to designate bovine somatotropin or “bovine growth hormone” (BGH) is worse. BGH is not used to promote growth in fed beef cattle but is used (if at all) to increase milk production in dairy cattle.

She recommends buying “half of an animal from a local farmer” and if “the farmer isn’t using growth hormones, then you know the meat is safe,” as if a possible trace of “growth hormone” is the most dangerous thing that could be in the meat. She also talks about farmers “that raise their cattle in an honest way,” as if it is dishonest for them to use legal products (not talking about BGH, either) that have been shown to leave no residues when used as directed.

Also, unless Minnesota has some law exempting direct from the farm meat sales, the farmer cannot legally sell “half an animal” to a person unless it is butchered at a federally inspected facility. You (and a friend) could buy a live animal on the hoof and then have it slaughtered yourself, as long as the meat does not contact any inspected meat that is for sale. That means you would need to have it custom slaughtered or do it yourself on the farm. If you go the latter route, can you keep the meat as clean as they do in a slaughter plant?

Remember that all the meat you buy at a grocery store or other retail outlet has been inspected, both before and after slaughter, and the slaughter and storage facilities are inspected, too. There are several things (notably bacteria and toxins like PCBs) that have the potential to seriously contaminate beef, but DES is not one of them.

Katie’s final statement to “buy locally” is a good idea but her “information” in the column does not support that conclusion.


Vicki Palen DVM

Milladore, WI