In recent years, the issue of contaminated feed in the world of horse racing has garnered significant attention. Instances of horses testing positive for banned substances due to contaminated feed have raised concerns about the integrity of the sport, to say nothing of worries around what horses are being fed. It is something that owners and trainers have had to concern themselves with in a manner that has put it at the forefront of the industry. In 2020, for example, an investigation was launched when five horses tested positive for the banned substance zilpaterol.
The result rocked the world of horse racing, with those that had ended up having contaminated feed needing to clean everything that might have touched it in order to ensure that there was no possibility of it showing up in the blood tests carried out on their horses. It meant that there was little trust for those involved in racing, never sure whether what they were giving their charges to eat was going to end up being flagged as a problem further down the line. The question is, what happened and why did it end up being such an issue for all concerned?
Understanding Contaminated Feed
In order to have a sense of what it is that we’re talking about, it is important to have a definition of contaminated feed. It refers to horse feed that has been unintentionally or intentionally contaminated with substances that are prohibited in horse racing. Horse feeds are specially formulated to provide the necessary nutrients for optimal equine health and performance. However, when these feeds contain prohibited substances, it can have serious consequences for both the integrity of the sport and the welfare of the horses involved.
Contaminated feed poses a significant threat to the integrity of horse racing. In a sport where fair competition is of paramount importance, the presence of banned substances in a horse’s system can undermine the fairness of the race and lead to disqualifications. When a horse tests positive for a prohibited substance, it not only tarnishes the reputation of the trainer and owner but also raises questions about the integrity of the entire sport. Positive drug tests can result in severe penalties, including fines, suspensions and even the loss of racing licences.
The welfare of the horses is also at stake, given the fact that these substances can have detrimental effects on their health and well-being. The detection of contaminated feed in horse racing has prompted regulatory bodies and industry stakeholders to examine the causes of such incidents and develop measures to prevent their occurrence in the future. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of horses testing positive for prohibited substances due to contaminated feed. These incidents have garnered significant media attention and have shaken the foundations of the horse racing industry.
Some cases of contaminated feed have involved well-known trainers and prominent racehorses, amplifying the impact on the sport. Such incidents not only result in disqualifications and sanctions for the individuals concerned, but also erode public trust in the fairness and integrity of horse racing. Whilst some instances of contaminated feed can be attributed to inadvertent contamination during the manufacturing process, deliberate sabotage has also been suspected in certain cases. Motivations for such actions can vary, including gaining a competitive advantage, targeting specific trainers or owners or seeking financial gain through betting.
The deliberate contamination of feed adds an additional layer of complexity to the issue, as it raises concerns about the security and integrity of the supply chain. Identifying the culprits and motives behind deliberate sabotage requires thorough investigations and collaboration between regulatory bodies, law enforcement agencies and industry experts. The recurrence of such incidents over the years has highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to address the issue of contaminated feed in horse racing. This includes investigating the causes of contamination, implementing preventive measures and ensuring swift and fair responses to positive drug tests.
Causes of Contamination
One of the primary causes of feed contamination in horse racing is cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
Feed mills often handle multiple types of feeds, including medicated and non-medicated varieties. If proper precautions are not taken to segregate and clean the equipment between batches, cross-contamination can occur. For example, if a feed mill produces both medicated feed containing therapeutic substances and non-medicated feed, residue from the medicated feed can inadvertently contaminate the non-medicated feed.
This can obviously lead to unintended exposure of horses to prohibited substances, resulting in positive drug tests. To mitigate the risk of cross-contamination, feed manufacturers should implement strict protocols for cleaning and maintaining equipment between different feed batches. This includes thorough cleaning procedures, separate production lines for medicated and non-medicated feeds and regular testing to ensure compliance with regulatory guidelines. Part of the problem is that not all manufacturers do this, not least of all because of the expense involved.
Adulteration of Feed
Another potential cause of feed contamination in horse racing is the adulteration of feed ingredients by suppliers. Feed manufacturers rely on a network of suppliers to provide the necessary ingredients for their formulations. In some cases, suppliers may unknowingly or deliberately provide adulterated ingredients, leading to the presence of prohibited substances in the final feed product. The motivations behind such adulteration can vary. In most instances, suppliers may unknowingly source contaminated or adulterated ingredients due to poor quality control measures or fraudulent practices within their own supply chains.
Economic incentives, such as cost-cutting or substituting expensive ingredients with cheaper alternatives, can also drive suppliers to adulterate feed ingredients. To address this issue, feed manufacturers should implement robust supplier vetting processes, ensuring that suppliers adhere to strict quality control standards and provide reliable and traceable ingredients. Regular testing of ingredients and maintaining a clear chain of custody can help identify any potential sources of contamination and mitigate the risk of adulteration. By understanding the causes of feed contamination, the horse racing industry can take proactive measures to prevent and address this issue effectively.
Measures to Prevent Contamination
To prevent feed contamination in horse racing, feed manufacturers should implement stringent quality control procedures throughout the manufacturing process, as mentioned. Ingredient testing is an important part of this, with the regular testing of incoming ingredients for the presence of prohibited substances helping to identify any potential contamination at an early stage. This testing should cover both raw materials and finished feed products. Implementing clear protocols for segregating different types of feed during production can minimise the risk of cross-contamination.
Equipment used for medicated feeds should be thoroughly cleaned before handling non-medicated feeds to prevent unintended exposure to prohibited substances. Conducting thorough vetting of suppliers is crucial to ensure the reliability and quality of the ingredients they provide. This includes verifying their adherence to quality control standards, performing site visits and regularly reviewing their manufacturing processes. Maintaining a clear and traceable chain of custody for ingredients throughout the manufacturing process can also be important to help identify potential sources of contamination and establish accountability.
Horse racing authorities play a vital role in preventing feed contamination by implementing robust regulatory oversight. This includes the likes of inspections and audits.
Regular Inspections of Manufacturing Facilities
Regular and surprise inspections of feed manufacturing facilities can ensure compliance with quality control standards. These inspections can verify the segregation of medicated and non-medicated feed production areas, equipment cleanliness and adherence to testing protocols. Racing authorities also conduct independent testing of feed samples to verify the absence of prohibited substances.
Doing so provides an additional layer of assurance and helps to identify any potential issues with feed manufacturers or suppliers. Enforcing strict penalties and disciplinary actions for feed manufacturers, trainers and owners who are found to be responsible for contaminated feed incidents can act as a strong deterrent. This can include fines, suspensions and even revocation of licences. Meanwhile, promoting education and training programs for trainers, owners and feed manufacturers is essential to raise awareness about the risks of feed contamination and the necessary preventive measures.
Promoting Education & Training Programs
These programs can cover topics such as proper feed handling, storage and manufacturing practices. By implementing these measures, the horse racing industry can significantly reduce the occurrence of feed contamination incidents and safeguard the integrity of the sport. When a horse tests positive for prohibited substances due to contaminated feed, swift and thorough investigations should be conducted. It is crucial to determine the source of the contamination and whether it was accidental or deliberate. Trainers and owners should have the opportunity to present evidence and explanations to establish their innocence, if applicable.
Based on the investigation’s findings, appropriate penalties should be imposed on those responsible for the contamination. These penalties can include fines, suspensions and disqualification of horses from races. It is important to strike a balance between holding individuals accountable and ensuring a fair and just process. There is no doubt that enhancing education and awareness amongst trainers, owners and feed manufacturers is key to preventing future incidents of contaminated feed.
Encouraging Collaboration & Communication
Encouraging collaboration and communication between industry stakeholders, including racing authorities, feed manufacturers and trainers, can foster a collective effort to prevent contamination. Sharing best practices, lessons learned and emerging trends in feed manufacturing can contribute to continuous improvement and vigilance. Developing and disseminating industry-wide guidelines for feed manufacturing, handling and quality control can serve as a valuable resource for all parties involved. These guidelines should reflect the latest scientific research, regulatory requirements and industry standards. By focusing on education and awareness, the horse racing community can promote a culture of responsible feed management and minimise the risk of contamination.
The Zilpaterol Example
In 2020, a substance called Zilpaterol was found in several horses. After investigation, it emerged that the Class A substance, according to the British Horseracing Authority, came from Gain Equine Nutrition. The BHA put in place an elective testing procedure, with the analytical laboratory, LGC, taking samples and processing and prioritising them in order of race entry. Samples taken as part of the Elective Testing process were not used for BHA regulatory purposes. any horse that returned a positive result for Zilpaterol following an approved Elective Test was not subject to any further sanction. The company responsible released a statement saying,
We again apologise sincerely to our valued customers for the inconvenience caused by this incident and we are committed to promptly keeping you fully informed.
It came in the wake of an ‘urgent action and recall notice’ on the product that contained the contamination. In the weeks that followed, it emerged that several companies had had their product contaminated with zilpaterol, on account of the fact that it had been in some molasses used during the manufacturing process and not picked up on until it was too late.
The welfare of the horses will always be of paramount concern for the owners and trainers that work with them week in, week out. For the manufacturers of the various feeds that are used, one of the big concerns is that there might be legal repercussions further down the line. That is what happened to Glanbia in the wake of the zilpaterol scandal, with Aidan O’Brien and his son Donnacha joining a group of plaintiffs who decided to issue legal proceedings against the manufacturers after having to withdraw horses from the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2020.
None of the five horses that initially tested positive for the banned substance were trained by O’Brien, but a statement from Gain Equine Nutrition, which is owned by Glanbia, advised them not to feed the product to their horses on the eve of the famous race. The O’Brien family had 11 horses due to take part in races over the course of the weekend and a decision was taken to remove them from the programme as a result. It left the company facing damages of around €9 million, demonstrating exactly why compliance is crucial to those responsible for feeding horses.