Illegal drug residues and Chinese Athletes

This past week the Chinese government banned Chinese athletes preparing for the London Summer Olympics from eating meat. At first glance this appears to be negative publicity for animal protein producers around the world.

However, if you dig deeper into the headline, the ban is on eating meat at any location other than the Olympic Training facility over the fear of clenbuterol residues in consumed meat causing a drug test failure.

In China, drug use remains relatively uncontrolled, in spite of recent governmental efforts to the contrary. I’ve personally witnessed use of products not approved for animal administration in the US and use of products of unknown potency with unknown purity, etc.

In the case of clenbuterol, this is a beta-agonist compound that results in high rates of lean deposition and less fat deposition in both ruminants and pigs. In the US the product is banned due to concerns over possible carcinogens related to the metabolism of the compound.

However, in China it is available on the black-market and is locally known as ‘grow-powder’ which makes pigs grow faster when sprinkled on the feed. Of course, when sprinkled on the feed the level of compound added to the diet is uncontrolled, and most likely much higher than would ever be fed even if the compound were an approved product.

Situations like this serve as a reminder of the very effective food safety net we have in the US. We have the FDA approving products for use in animal diets only after rigorous testing and a lengthy approval process. As a result of the 9-11 disaster, feed mills have much more stringent monitoring and reporting requirements.

In addition USDA randomly tests carcasses for residues. I’m sure several readers of this blog have been involved in the false positive aspects of this testing where they are have been tasked to prove a zero possibility of residue for the drug tested before more pigs from the facility are allowed to enter the food chain. In the case of USDA, they err on the side of caution with residue testing, preferring to have many false positives to track down rather than letting one positive carcass enter the food chain.

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