A story making headlines this week claims a link between infertility in adult males with the amount of beef consumed by their mothers during pregnancy. The study published in the British journal, Human Reproduction, speculates that the culprit is growth implants and "other zenobiotics" in beef.

The study of 387 American men born between 1949 and 1983 -- and all fathering children without medical assistance -- purports that sons of mothers who ate more than seven beef meals/week had a sperm concentration about 25% lower than men whose mothers ate less beef. The London Telegraph reports lead researcher Shanna Swan as saying: "Theoretically, the fetus and young children are particularly sensitive to exposure to sex steroids. Therefore, the consumption of residues of steroids in meat by pregnant women and young children is of particular concern."

The American Meat Institute (AMI) countered that the study should be viewed only with "a giant dose of skepticism" and "appears to be a health study in search of a health problem."

"In conducting this study, adult men who had already conceived children were told to ask their mothers what they ate decades earlier during pregnancy. It is a widely accepted fact that food recall can be notoriously poor from even a day or a week before, let alone multiple decades," says Randy Huffman, AMI vice president of scientific affairs.

Huffman says the study's most glaring fault is "the purely speculative conclusion that certain chemical components of beef were the cause of associations observed between the questionnaire responses and the count of sperm in the male subjects." The study includes no lab analysis of the compounds suggested to be contained in beef, "much less the beef that may have been consumed by the mothers decades ago. To conclude that some undetected compound is the cause for an association seen in these data is of questionable validity," he says.
-- Joe Roybal