Investigation 05 Feb 13

Unwary Albanian Diners Consume Banned Hormones

Albanians love their local meat, believing it especially pure - little do they know that it often contains a dangerous hormone that EU countries have banned for good reason.

Besar Likmeta
Cows pasturing | Source : Flirckr

Albanian consumers have a strong preference for locally produced beef, which they think is organically raised, ensuring a higher quality and taste compared to imported meat. 

However, Balkan Insight has obtained documents that show that local beef might not be as safe and organic as consumers think.

For five years, Albanian authorities have allowed the import and use for cattle fattening of a banned hormone supplement called Boldemec LA.

Its main ingredient is a steroid called Boldenone, which was developed for veterinary use, mainly for the treatment of horses.

However, athletes sometimes use it for doping, and bodybuilders use it as well to increase muscle weight.

Athletes involved in several doping scandals in the United Sates, including major league soccer, baseball, boxing and martial arts matches, have taken it.

Although Albania bans the use of hormones, Boldemec La has been on the approved list of veterinary drugs for years.

Experts warn that consumption of meat fattened with Boldenone can be dangerous in the long term to human health.

What makes the use of hormones even more risky is a tendency by farmers in Albania to slaughter their animals relatively young.

Such practice does not allow the hormone in the animal to metabolize, transferring what may be dangerously high dosage of the steroid to consumers.        

The Peruvian company, Agrovet, which produces Boldemec LA, did not respond to our queries about the potential risks to humans associated with consumption of meat fattened with Boldenone.  

Agrovet advertises that it permits a slow and prolonged liberation of Boldenone components, allowing pasturing animals to fatten by increasing the efficiency in which they convert food. It also controls parasites.

Documents obtained by Balkan Insight show that Albania included Boldemec LA on the list of bio-products and veterinary drugs on June 26, 2007, and that its license remained valid at least until June 2012.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Protection has denied that Boldemec La was approved now for fattening livestock, claiming it was withdrawn from the market in 2009. 

Sotiraq Papa, head of consumer protection at the Ministry, said it was “withdrawn from circulation in 2009 and had only been approved [before then] for the treatment of cats and dogs.”

Contrary to what the Ministry says, documents show the hormone was still on a June 2011 list of approved veterinary drugs for trade that the Ministry sent to the National Food Authority. 

The drug is not indicated by its manufacturer as suitable for the treatment of pets. Its registration certificate in Albania, obtained by Balkan Insight, also does not indicate that it was restricted to such use. 

A fact-finding mission by the European Commission’s Health and Consumer General Directorate in September 2010 found that products containing Boldenone were being openly sold in Albanian veterinary pharmacies.

“The mission team identified that a number of products intended for use in food producing animals, which had been granted an authorization, contain substances which are either expressly prohibited in the EU… including one containing the anabolic steroid boldenone,” the mission said in its report.

“Label recommendations for the latter advised its use in cattle and in one region it was confirmed that this was being used off-label in sheep,” the same report added.

The Minister of Agriculture in June 2006 banned marketing, storage and use of substances with hormonal action, like Boldenone.  

Albania’s law on veterinary service, adopted in 2011, prescribes the use of hormones only when they are approved by the European Commission and only for therapeutic and scientific research purposes.

Agrovit has export licenses for Boldemec LA only in Albania and Northern Cyprus. All European Union countries have banned the use of hormones in livestock for more than two decades.

Food safety and veterinary policy is one of the building blocks of reform areas that the EU requires of Albania to advance its integration process.

However, the latest report of the European Commission, released in November, notes slow progress in this field over the past year.

A study of the meat sector industry, conducted by the German Agency for Technical Cooperation, meanwhile, shows that locally produced beef commends a premium price in Albania, while imported deep frozen beef is much cheaper.

The study notes that most farmers do not specialize in meat production and slaughter their calves too young, before they gain sufficient weight, responding to the demand for very young animals.

“Because consumers prefer young animals, the use of hormones in fatting calves is very dangerous,” an expert at the Agricultural University of Tirana, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“Boldemec LA is easily accessible in local veterinary pharmacies and is not even being used properly by farmers,” he added.

Bruno Le Bizec, a professor at Nantes-Atlantic College of Veterinary Medicine, in France, told Balkan Insight that EU regulations prohibit the use of Boldenone to fatten animals because its toxicology is higher than the EU criteria permit.

“The toxicological make-stuff of Boldenone is… quite dangerous when consumed by humans,” Le Bizec said.

He added that there is a good deal of debate in the scientific community about steroids, even when their presence in products is about 100 or even 1,000 times smaller than in Boldemec LA, because of the potential danger to consumers.

The professor underlined that consuming meat fattened with Boldenone can lead to a number of adverse health conditions.   

“It’s critical, when they [products fattened with Boldenone] are consumed, especially for young children and babies, in light of the activity of the steroid,” he said.

Dr Saskia Sterk, an expert on steroids at the RILKIT Institute in The Netherlands, agrees that consumption of meat fattened with Boldenone and other steroids, particularly among vulnerable groups, is unsafe.

“I support EU legislation on the subject because there can be long-term effects on human health and also for animal healthcare,” she said.

“It’s also an unfair economic practice, when you compare farmers that are producing [meat] without these substances,” Dr Sterk concluded.

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