Introduction

Growth in animals is well known to be influenced by a range of endogenous anabolic compounds that promote commercially desirable greater lean tissue deposition and reduced fat in body tissues. These compounds, which act directly or indirectly to alter anabolic or catabolic processes, include protein hormones and growth factors and steroidal androgens and estrogens. Of these only andro-genic and estrogenic compounds along with certain progestagens have been approved for commercial application in farm animals. This long-standing practice now mainly applies to beef production in North American countries. In contrast, the European Union has applied the ''precautionary principle'' and prohibited both the use of these preparations internally and importation of meat from treated animals from external countries. This prohibition is frequently questioned on the grounds of the small amounts of residues consumed in beef in relation to endogenous quantities in humans and those determined as safe by toxicological methodology. This review will consider, for the anabolic agents in commercial use, application and responses in practice, mode of action, residues, and contemporary issues relating to risk assessment for human consumers and the general environment.

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