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Wheezing chickens…

5 Sep


To the folks who asked about assessing whether a bird is OK for slaughter…

You told me that despite treatment with antibiotics, the birds still seem to be wheezing, and “sound  raspy.”  You also know that they cannot be on antibiotics for at least seven days before slaughter. 

Well, if  I had a chicken that was wheezing, I would give it oxygen and make it quit smoking.

But seriously, I certainly wouldn’t eat any animal that was sick or was recently on antibiotics. Even slaughtering facilities quarantine animals that are sick or have a temp until a) they are well or b) are condemned as unfit for consumption.

So my opinion is, don’t slaughter and definitely do not eat.

Hormones in Beef: Part Three of Three

23 Mar

Hi. I’m not Cole. I’m Karen Coshof.  I co-wrote “The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” with Cole. The book’s discussion about hormones in beef was part of my contribution to the project.  Here’s  the third and final part of the discussion (with a gentle conclusion)…


Help, I’m Eating Hormones!

Since estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone are naturally produced by the bodies of animals, including people and cattle, should you be worried about additional exposure via cattle ear implants? I say no, and here’s why.

Let’s take a look at estrogen. The normal production of human estrogen per day is about 4,000 nanograms (1 nanogram = 1 billionth gram; 1 gram = 1/454th pound) in boys, a little higher in girls, about 100,000 to 150,000 nanograms in men, from 5 to 15 million nanograms in nonpregnant women, and from 4 to 64 million nanograms (or more) in pregnant women.

A 6-ounce serving of beef from a beef animal that has not been implanted contains about 2.6 nanograms; the same serving from an animal that has been implanted will contain about 3.8 nanograms of estrogen. Exact amounts will vary, but remain around these mean numbers.

Looking at some other foods:


8 fluid ounces (one glass) of milk = about 30 ng of estrogen

300 peas = about 330 ng estrogen

3 ounces of cabbage = about 2,000 ng


3 ounces of soybean oil = about 1,680,000 ng
(you read that right!)


And medications: One human birth control pill contains the same amount of estrogen as 105,000 pounds of beef from implanted steers.

So maybe we’re all getting a little too worked up about hormones in beef… (just saying)… 

HORMONES IN BEEF: part two of three (from my book)

16 Mar

Are Hormone Implants Safe? Part 1: The Politics

There are as many opinions about the safety of beef from implanted cattle as there are people.

In the late 1980s, the European Union banned the import of all hormone-treated meat from Canada and the United States, citing dangers to human health. This suggests that some sort of hormone-related risk from US beef caused the European community to press for the beef ban.

Let’s shed a little more light on the issue. The EU ban was triggered by an early growth promotant called DES (diethylstilbestrol), one of the first hormones used in feedlots. When DES was proven to cause cancer, the United States banned it in chicken and lamb production in 1959 and in all cattle production in 1979.

The European concern was triggered later—in the 1980s—when DES was detected in baby food made with veal. The baby food was made in France from French cows treated with DES, and thus had nothing to do with the United States. The resulting uproar led several European countries to ban the use of all hormones in cattle, which effectively banned most North American beef.

The dispute over the use of hormones in cattle is long running. The United States and Canadian governments maintain that the hormones being used in meat production today are safe. The European Union claims they are not. So why is this issue such a hot political potato?

Many economists and scientists believe that the EU ban was deliberately protectionist, and that beef was singled out because Europe has historically depended on beef from other countries—particularly the United States and Brazil. Why? Because there’s not much good grazing pasture in Europe. To protect the “inefficient” beef markets of the EU, the ban was created and received generous support from European consumers despite the lack of conclusive evidence.

Arbitrating the matter is the World Trade Organization (WTO), which rules on international trade between nations. The process by which rulings are arrived at is complex, involving hearings from both sides of the issue, expert/scientific testimony, drafting of an interim report, review, a final report, and ultimately a ruling, which becomes international law. If one side breaks the terms of the agreement, the penalty generally involves some sort of trade sanction.

In 1997, the World Trade Organization sided with the United States and Canada, saying that the EU’s health claims weren’t scientifically justified, and that the hormones used were unlikely to pose a hazard to human health, if good animal husbandry was practiced. However, the ruling still stands.

To help alleviate the situation (which was hurting both North America and Europe), in early 2012 the European Union offered concessions to partially defuse this 20-year trade war. The deal allowed the EU to retain its ban on imports of hormone-treated beef in return for an increase in its import quota for non-hormone-treated beef from the United States and Canada. In return, the US and Canada lifted import tariffs on a range of European farm produce like cheeses, chocolate, truffles, and other specialty products.

Are Hormone Implants Safe? Part 2: The Science

Science, like opinion, changes. But opinion is subjective and science, ideally, is objective. It’s just that as new information or findings emerge, they are incorporated into scientific research, and so what we know today is colored by and rests upon what we knew yesterday.

So for every report that concludes that the use of hormones in beef production poses a threat to children, another report points out that our bodies continually make the exact same hormones that the EU nations have banned in meat, and that we eat eggs and butter, which contain the same hormones in much higher concentrations than in beef.

An experiment by Iowa State University found that growth-promoting hormones decrease the land required to produce a pound of beef by two-thirds, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions nearly 40 percent per pound of beef compared with cattle never implanted with hormones. That seems like a big check in the positive column for hormone use.

However, other studies have focused on the negative environmental impacts of hormone residues in cattle manure. When manure from feedlots runs off into the surrounding environment, these hormones can contaminate surface water and groundwater. Multiple studies have shown that children are particularly sensitive to these kinds of hormones, even at very tiny levels. Even the USDA has commented on the danger of hormone residues flushed into groundwater. But since cattle produce hormones naturally, this may be more of an issue of manure management than implant residues—it’s very difficult to isolate which hormone residues are the result of implants and which are not.

I’m not a scientist. I’m a butcher. All I can do is try to present the most factually accurate information out there. One expert I spoke with is Marcia Herman-Giddens, adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, Chapel Hill. In the late 1990s, she was the lead author of a seminal study on early puberty in girls, in which she expressed her concern about the effect of hormones and other endocrine-affecting chemicals in our environment. Herman-Giddens told me this:

When I wrote that study, there was very little data on hormone implants in cattle, although the doses were not inconsequential. To me, the use of hormone implants is still an open question, and a complex one. Effects, if any, could depend on the amount of meat consumed, interactions with other substances, and possible cumulative effects of similar exposures. I believe the reasons for early puberty involve a multiplicity of causes.

My generation did not grow up in a chemical-infused world. Now it’s all around us . . . in plastics like BPA, in herbicides and pesticides, even in dental sealants on children’s teeth. We are living in a sea of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. So it’s only natural that, depending on lifestyle, some people will encounter more exposure than others. It’s not just one thing—it’s cumulative.

In my opinion, the use of hormones to stimulate cattle growth is still a significant issue for the public. I believe that what’s needed is open, independently funded research to avoid public perception that the way the beef industry is framing this issue suggests that there’s something to hide. So for me, the jury’s still out.

In a 2009 report written for the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, analyst Susan Holtz noted the dramatic increase in drugs used annually in Canadian animal husbandry—particularly in intensive (read: feedlot) operations. She pointed out that much support for the EU ban on growth promotants had to do with European countries’ history of embracing traditional values of livestock raising, as well as support for local and artisanal food and the heritage value of agricultural landscapes. In a phone call, she told us that while the use of hormone implants may be safe, she is very concerned about the effect of antibiotic use (more about this below).

And to conclude: The assessment that administering hormones to beef cattle is a safe practice has been endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration of the United States, Health Canada, the Codex Alimentarius Committee of the World Trade Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the European Agriculture Commission

Toot. Toot.

22 Jan

… tooting my own horn here. So reader warning – the following post is unabashed promotion (after almost two years of work,  hey, why not?)

and here it is!!!

and here it is!!!

My book is finished! Published! Available to all! Three hundred and twelve pages of juicy meat-ness, with chapters covering:

  • The real definition, work, and role of a culinary butcher;
  • The roots of butchery from pre-history to today;
  • Meat: selecting your breed, grading and aging, tenderness, storing, and reheating;
  • The truth behind meat marketing claims of “organic”, “natural”, “free-range”, “grass-fed”, “pasture-raised” and more;
  • How meat gets to the table: farmers, slaughtering methods, stress and animal welfare, the role of meat inspectors, cut sheets, what’s legally allowed/not allowed when purchasing meat for further processing, keeping integrity in the local meat movement;
  • Understanding the commercial meat food chain and what goes on behind the scenes at meat markets large and small;
  • Processing your own meat: what you’ll need, tools, safety, and preparation;
  • Beef: domestication, terminology, how cows work, raising methods (grass, grain, etc.), meat-safety issues, hormone growth implants, antibiotics and feed additives, carcass yield and marbling scores, cutting up a beef forequarter and hindquarter, and a partial list of beef breeds;
  • Pork: domestication, terminology, raising methods, grading and inspection, cutting up a side of pork, and a partial list of pork breeds;
  • Sheep: domestication, terminology, raising methods, cutting up a whole lamb, and a partial list of sheep breeds;
  • Chicken: domestication, terminology, how to cut up a whole chicken;
  • How to make sausages;
  • Value-added products: what they are and how they can help increase your bottom line;
  • Your own butcher shop: size, equipment, display, marketing; and,
  • A better way of thinking about meat: including a holistic overview and some conclusions.



“The Gourmet Butcher’s Guide to Meat” comes with a CD with my complete butchery course –  over 800 photos that show you exactly how to cut up a side of beef, side of pork, whole lamb and chicken. Every step described and illustrated.

So how’s them apples? 


And just to prove it’s real, here are a few early reviews:

“Is there a bible of meat? There is one now. Cole Ward’s book demystifies the whole process of how animals are raised, slaughtered, and eventually make it to your plate.  From learning about breeds to cutting up your own side of beef, you will be a more empowered meat eater once you read this book.”
                     Rebecca Thistlethwaite, author, Farms with a Future

“This comprehensive book is far more than a guide to cutting meat – it’s for anyone who want a better understanding of meat (and we all should). Engaging, informative, and yes, fun!”
                     Nicolette Hahn Niman, rancher and author, Righteous Porkchop

“Cole Ward has done an extraordinary job of balancing the widely diverse components of meat production, marketing, and quality in this comprehensive and uniquely informative book. The author has taken every effort to present even the most contentious issues surrounding meat production from a balanced and accurate perspective. His through treatment of thse issues provides the reader the opportunity to make a well-informed decision as a matter of personal choice, unencumbered by emotion or innuendo.  However, the real value of the book is in the articulate way Ward connects the reader to both the science and the artisanship of gourmet butchering.  His comfortable style and incomparable knowledge of gourmet butchering make this a valuable resource for quality meat aficionados and a must read for chefs, butchers, and meat lovers everywhere.”
                       Mark Boggess, PhD, animal scientist and meat-industry expert

Hmmm, Not Feeling Well… was it possibly those chicken wings?

26 Jul


How can you tell when meat is going “off”? It’ll start losing its color. Red meat will start turning brown. It’ll have a sour smell. If it’s really bad, it’ll get a glossy golden-colored film on it. Pork tends to turn more towards the green side (ick). It’ll get grayish first, then have a really rancid smell. Chicken will get a sheen. Starting to feel queasy?

Chicken  – in fact, all poultry, like turkeys and the ilk – very often carries salmonella and must be carefully handled. We had a saying in olde-time butcherdom: “You gotta watch out for Sam and Ella” (Yes, it’s lame, but times were simply then and our jokes were dumber.) So whenever I work with raw poultry, I sanitize everything it touches – surfaces, faucets, and so on.

Why are these on sale?

Why are these on sale?

I always cook poultry the day I buy it—I don’t store it in the refrigerator (even overnight). I always wash chicken in cold water, because using warm water will tend to activate any bacteria on the bird, and may even start the cooking process. 

Poultry’s tendency to carry bacteria is one reason that responsible butchers don’t cut chicken on the same bench where other meats are cut (unless the bench has been thoroughly sanitized between meats). If you cut beef on a surface where raw chicken has been, that beef could end up contaminated with bacteria. And if that beef were then cooked only to “rare”, some bacteria (such as salmonella) might survive the cooking process, and you could end up with stomach upset, diarrhea…you get the picture.

So sanitization is extremely important, and today, any good butcher will understand this. Wasn’t always so… I’ve heard older butchers say, “I wonder how many people we made sick in the old days…” when it was common to cut chicken on the same bench as meat.