Aramark to outlaw controversial growth hormones from its supply chain

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Aramark to outlaw controversial growth hormones from its supply chain

Related tags Animal welfare

US food service firm Aramark has agreed to work with its suppliers to eliminate the use of hormones and feed additives that it says are harmful to animals, including recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST), zilpaterol hydrochloride and ractopamine.

The pledges are part of a new set of animal welfare principles that have been developed in collaboration with animal welfare and protection organization the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). 

“As a global food service provider, we have the responsibility to meet a wide variety of client and consumer interests across our diverse consumer base. Over the last several years, the importance of responsible purchasing practices - including animal welfare issues - has become increasingly important to Aramark, our clients, our consumers and the broader industry,​Kathy Cacciola, senior director, environmental sustainability, with Aramark, told FeedNavigator. 

Cacciola noted that consumer demand for products free from hormones and other additives had risen over the last few years. Additionally, she said that many of Aramark’s customers have a strong interest in transparency across the supply chain - where the product is sourced, how it is farmed and what it contains. 

The problem with growth hormones

rBGH or rBST, zilpaterol hydrochloride and ractopamine have been approved for use in the US since the 1950s and are now believed to be used on approximately two-thirds of all cattle and about 90% of the cattle on feedlots, according to a report earlier this year by the Congressional Research Service[1]​. 

“Cattle producers use hormones because they allow animals to grow larger and more quickly on less feed and fewer other inputs, thus reducing production costs, but also because they produce a leaner carcass more in line with consumer preferences for diets with reduced fat and cholesterol,​wrote the report’s author, Renée Johnson. 

However, according to HSUS, rBGH is associated with a number of cow health issues, including lameness, mastitis and an increased potential for heat stress, whilst the beta-agonists zilpaterol and ractopamine have been implicated in increased death rates of cattle in feedlots. 

Risks to animal and human health have already led to these hormones being banned in Japan, Australia, Canada and the EU. 

With the consumer tide turning against products containing growth hormones, it could be that other US food giants will follow Aramark’s lead to distance themselves from the practice. 

Not so fast on broiler growth

In its animal welfare policy, Aramark also promises to address animal welfare issues associated with the fast growth of broiler chickens and turkeys. 

These issues stem from the practice of selective breeding, which has been very successful in creating commercial genetic strains that reach weight to market, but with adverse effects on the health of birds, as Sara Shields, consultant to the HSUS, explains: 

“There are a number of unintended side effects associated with the rapid gain of weight on an immature skeleton, and the number one concern is leg deformities. About 25% of chickens have a detectable gait abnormality, that is, they are clinically lame and have a hard time walking. This problem gets worse the closer the birds get to slaughter weight and in severe cases, the birds become completely crippled and are unable to walk.​ 

She added that broiler chickens also suffer from a variety of heart and circulatory disorders, and can die from ‘sudden death syndrome’ or ascites because they don’t have the heart and lung capacity to keep up with the metabolic needs of their rapidly growing body. 

“Slower growing genetic strains do not have such severe issues with metabolic and leg problems,​she said. 

[1]​ The US-EU Beef Hormone Dispute, Renée Johnson, 14 January 2015

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