The presence and metabolism of endogenous steroid hormones in meat-producing animals has been the subject of much research over the past 40 years. While significant data are available, no comprehensive review has yet been performed. Species considered in this review are bovine, porcine, ovine, equine, caprine and cervine, while steroid hormones include the androgenic-anabolic steroids testosterone, nandrolone and boldenone, as well as their precursors and metabolites. Information on endogenous steroid hormone concentrations is primarily useful in two ways: (1) in relation to pathological versus 'normal' physiology and (2) in relation to the detection of the illegal abuse of these hormones in residue surveillance programmes. Since the major focus of this review is on the detection of steroids abuse in animal production, the information gathered to date is used to guide future research. A major deficiency in much of the existing published literature is the lack of standardization and formal validation of experimental approach. Key articles are cited that highlight the huge variation in reported steroid concentrations that can result when samples are analysed by different laboratories under different conditions. These deficiencies are in most cases so fundamental that it is difficult to make reliable comparisons between data sets and hence it is currently impossible to recommend definitive detection strategies. Standardization of the experimental approach would need to involve common experimental protocols and collaboratively validated analytical methods. In particular, standardization would need to cover everything from the demographic of the animal population studied, the method of sample collection and storage (especially the need to sample live versus slaughter sampling since the two methods of surveillance have very different requirements, particularly temporally), sample preparation technique (including mode of extraction, hydrolysis and derivatization), the end-point analytical detection technique, validation protocols, and the statistical methods applied to the resulting data. Although efforts are already underway (at HFL and LABERCA) to produce more definitive data and promote communication among the scientific community on this issue, the convening of a formal European Union working party is recommended.