A&W and steroids

We had lunch at an A&W a little while ago, and were inundated with more of their talk of how their beef is raised without any added hormones or steroids. They actually state this on their website as a “guarantee“. They’ve been saying this for a while now, including “man on the street” interviews in their commercials, where people are all impressed at this great decision that A&W has made.

(We’ll ignore the fact that a steroid is a hormone, so talking about “hormones or steroids” is redundant; you could just say “hormones”. But not everybody knows that (I just found out while researching this article), so we’ll chalk that up to “if we just say hormones, people will ask about steroids so we say both” and let it go. I’ll just use “hormones” in this article to mean both.)

But does it matter? Or is this yet another example of boosting sales and therefore profits through fear mongering?

This “guarantee” implies, but does not state, one of two things:

1. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones change the beef to make it taste worse or be less nutritious.

OR (this is kind of a special case of #1)

2. If you raise cattle using added hormones, the extra hormones make it into the beef, and the amount of extra hormones in beef has a non-negligible effect on the health of a human who eats it.

I don’t know if either of these things is true but the implication is that beef with added hormones is less healthy than beef without. But where’s the science to back that up? Nowhere on the A&W web site, I can assure you of that.

Maybe a little too much

But do they need science to back it up? What is it they need to back up? Their web site states many times that their beef is raised “without added hormones or steroids”, and that they’re the only Canadian burger chain that can say that, but they make no other claims. Nowhere do they say that their burgers are healthier because of it. They don’t really need to prove their burgers are healthier, because they don’t claim they are. If you read that into what they’re saying, that’s up to you. Clever.

They also talk about their impact on the environment and sustainability, but again it’s all implication. They don’t claim that anything they do is more environmentally friendly.

However, on an agriculture blog, we see that if growth hormones were not used on cattle, we’d need 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, 4% more water, and 7% more fuel and fertilizer to produce the same amount of beef. (These numbers come from the Beef Cattle Research Council) Removing hormones is hardly contributing to sustainability.

The amount of hormones we’re talking about here makes you wonder if the whole argument is really meaningful anyway. Actually, it doesn’t make you wonder at all. The answer is clear: No, it’s not. Once again, we find that just like with all other so-called “toxins”, the dose makes the poison. First off, all beef contains hormones. 500g of beef without added hormones contains 5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of hormones (specifically estrogen). 500g of beef with added hormones contains 7 nanograms. Yes, that’s 40% more, but when you consider that 500g of white bread contains 300,000 nanograms and a pregnant woman creates 20 million nanograms in her body every day, reducing your burger hormone intake from 7 to 5 seems rather meaningless. The bun contains ten thousand times more hormones than the burger.

The A&W web site also states that their chicken is raised without antibiotics. On the same page, they state “Antibiotics are typically injected into the egg and added to the feed in low dosages in order to prevent disease within the chickens and to promote health.” So they are proud that they are not attempting to prevent disease or promote health in their chickens?

On their “Eggs FAQ” page, A&W states that the hens that lay the eggs they use are fed a vegetarian diet and that “Their feed has also been enriched with vitamins D, E, and B12, as well as folacin.” Vitamin D is both a hormone and a steroid. They seem just as proud of giving hormones and steroids to the chickens that lay their eggs as they are proud of not giving any to the cows that provide their burgers.

I think this is misleading advertising and I would call for a boycott of A&W, except for the fact that I like their burgers so I probably would boycott the boycott anyway.


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