Fact check: Male and female animals used for meat, estrogen levels don't affect humans

The claim: Only female animals are used for meat, which increases estrogen in men

A March 8 Facebook video (direct link, archive link) shows a shirtless man standing in front of a backyard grill.

“Everything that you eat in meat products is a female,” he says. “That means you’re taking on estrogen in your body and it’s changing your hormones. That’s why if you notice most men, have been kind of like, moody, emotional – they’re taking on a more feminine energy and a feminine behavior because of that meat.”

The video was shared more than 1,500 times in two weeks.

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Our rating: False

Experts told USA TODAY both male and female animals are used for meat, and both naturally have estrogen levels present. However, the estrogen in meat does not meaningfully affect the human body. The levels are insignificant compared to other foods and naturally-occurring estrogen levels in men and women.

Estrogen levels in meat pale in comparison to other foods

Two experts told USA TODAY the claim is wrong on multiple fronts.

Gretchen Mafi, a professor of animal and food sciences at Oklahoma State University, said meat produced in the U.S. comes from both male and female animals. In fact, she said more meat will often come from male animals because more females are needed for breeding.

A cook prepares a sample piece of lab-grown meat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's safe to eat.
A cook prepares a sample piece of lab-grown meat. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's safe to eat.

The effect of estrogen from meat is also greatly overstated.

Estrogen is a hormone that plays a major role in sexual and reproductive health, according to the Cleveland Clinic. While it is present in both men and women, women produce more of the hormone, the Association for Women's Health Care says on its website.

Both male and female animals have estrogen in their bodies, but the levels in meat are "negligible" compared to other foods such as peanuts, tofu and beans, Mafi said. Soy products, flaxseeds and garlic are also rich in estrogen, according to WebMD.

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Estimates of just how much estrogen is present can vary, but all are minuscule. There were 1.3 nanograms of estrogen per 3-ounce serving of certified organic beef according to a 2012 fact sheet by the American Meat Institute. A 2020 study in journal Toxicology Research and Application found less than 0.005 micrograms of estrogen per 100 grams of meat.

"It is so small … that it is basically irrelevant to the function of the human body," said Chris Kerth, a professor of meat science at Texas A&M University.

It also pales in comparison to the natural estrogen produced by both men and women, which can be anywhere from 60 to 700 micrograms per day, the Toxicology Research and Application study found.

Lean meat is a "very good" source of protein that has all nine essential amino acids as well as zinc, heme iron and B-vitamins, Kerth said.

The USDA inspects both male and female livestock and poultry for slaughter, according to an agency spokesperson. It does not test for naturally-occurring estrogen in the animals but does test for synthetic hormones under the FDA's approved tolerance levels.

USA TODAY previously debunked a claim that the Impossible Burger contains more estrogen than transgender hormone therapy.

USA TODAY reached out to the user who shared the recent claim for comment.

Lead Stories also debunked the claim.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Eating meat of female animals doesn't raise men's estrogen