Illegal hormones are bought by organized criminal groups and sold to veterinarians, chemists and animal feed suppliers. The hormones accelerate animal growth. "Hormone" is an oversimplification; the drugs trafficked include thyroid inhibitors, anabolic steroids, beta-agonists and corticosteroids.
In Belgium, the "hormone mafia", said to comprise about 50 people, has been operating since the late 1970's. It obtains drugs from chemical laboratories in countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, or buys them via other countries. Attacks on veterinary inspectors in Belgium have been linked publicly to the hormone mafia.
In tests conducted in 1995, 36% of Spanish meat containing stimulants. More than 6% of 1000 Belgian beef steaks tested contained residues from synthetic hormones, and 25% contained suspiciously high levels of clenbuterol, a beta-agonist. Results from France were similar.
1. Hormones are a means of fraud, and are a crime against the citizen. However, only 10% of the population is prepared to pay more for food produced without hormones. To feed the other 90%, we have to use intensive farming methods.
2. The EU's ban of the growth hormone-treated meat fuels the illegal market. Since 1988 we have seen the rise of the hormone mafia and a shift towards a black market trade in substances which have not been tested for safety.