I'm Done with fearing food and done with A&W: Andrew Campbell


There are hormones in your food! What’s worse, they are in you! Alarmed yet? You shouldn’t be, and I’ll tell you why, plus why I’m done with marketing gimmicks and done with A&W Canada.

Yes, there are hormones in your food, but are they something to fear? A&W certainly thinks so, with a new campaign promoting their beef burgers produced with “no added hormones or steroids”. It is good to know a company that says, “Being a leader isn’t always easy – but doing the right thing rarely is,” is clearly only interested in selling a few more hamburgers because of fear, rather than educating a skeptical customer.

First point: You have hormones in you right now, and whether you eat a Teen Burger or not isn’t going to change that. In fact, you may even be taking additional hormones to help keep you from getting pregnant, lessen the effects of menopause, or an incredible host of other concerns and issues. Hormones also are natural in every other living thing from a soybean plant to a duck. It is why A&W has to promote there are not ‘added’ hormones, and can’t get away with saying hormone-free. (Despite the fact A&W promoted a news article that got the facts wrong in the very first line)

The bun on the burger would have more estrogen than a beef patty from an animal once treated with a hormone

My second point takes us back to the farm. In Canada and the U.S., an animal can be given a hormone (also called growth promotant) early on. Growth promtants improve the animal’s ability to process the food they eat into muscle tissue. It works via a tiny implant placed under the skin of the ear. These are slow-release products that last about 180 days, but are used long before (at least 200 days) an animal heads to market. Why do it? With the help of hormones already circulating in all of us, these animals convert their food into muscle more efficiently — it means less crops are needed to feed that animal and therefore less manure is produced. Sarah Schultz, who blogs at Nurse Loves Farmer, pulled the stats from the Beef Cattle Research Council, and explains in her blog post on the topic, that if we didn’t use these tiny implants, it would take 12% more cattle, 11% more feed, and 10% more land to produce the same amount of beef as we are producing today. It would also mean 10% more greenhouse gases because of the increased manure. That is a huge positive environmental impact for such a tiny implant.

Third point (and this is where I really find A&W’s commitment to fear shine), Iowa State University highlighted the ‘estrogenic activity’ of a number of foods (read it here). In 500 grams of beef (or more than an entire pound) not given the added hormone, there are 5 nanograms of estrogen (ng). In an entire pound of beef given that little injection, there are 7 ng. Big difference? Not if you look at the fact your body, very naturally produced 136,000 nanograms of estrogen today, if you are a man. As a woman, you’ll produce 513,000 nanograms per day, and the mood swings that your pregnant friend seems to be feeling could be because of the almost 20 million nanograms she is producing each and every day. And we are bickering over 2? (In case you are curious,peanuts show up on the scale at 100,000 ng, white bread 300,000,ng and tofu at 113 million nanograms for the same 500g. So yes, the bun on the burger would have more estrogen than a beef patty from an animal once treated with a hormone. Also, birth control pills contain 20,000 to 50,000 ng). The Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also has a report on the use, and backs up what Iowa State found– that the contribution to my system of a beef animal treated with a hormone relative to what I produce on my own is 0.00025%. And eating at A&W, despite what they want you to believe, can’t even make that zero.

(Scrolling halfway down this UN report, you’ll find information on impacts to testosterone and progesterone, two other very natural hormones that the implant impacts. And because you can’t have enough facts, find more support here from the Beef Information Centre here in Canada.)

So what do we do?

Well, I’m going to start by telling A&W that their cheeky campaign, that is only meant to play on fears and certainly not inform, isn’t going to cut it for me. In fact, I’m done with A&W. It certainly doesn’t help their cause that they don’t buy 100% Canadian, even though they pride themselves on their Canadian heritage – but that discussion can wait.

I hope you choose not to stand for this either. It is too bad to go after an iconic company like A&W like this, but food companies have got to get a hold of their marketing people and shake the fear, misinformation and down right dirty tricks out.

Let’s shake some facts and common sense in, instead.

Talking about it on social media? Use #DoneWithAW.

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