Eating Mexican or Chinese meat said to bring risk of ingesting banned drug
NEW YORK CITY––A National Football League warning to players against eating meat from Mexico and China that may contain the synthetic steroid clenbuterol in early May 2016 at last caught up to Humane Farming Association warnings to the American public––22 years later.
Reported ABC Sports, “Clenbuterol is banned under the league’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The drug-testing program’s independent administrator sent a memo to players, saying ‘consuming large quantities of meat while visiting those particular countries may result in a positive test…Players are warned to be aware of this issue when traveling to Mexico and China. Please take caution if you decide to consume meat, and understand that you do so at your own risk. Players are responsible for what is in their bodies.”
“Very much in use”
Observed Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED) moderator Tam Garland, “While some of this has relatively historical sound to it,” since clenbuterol scandals involving horses and livestock date into the early 1980s, “the drug is very much in use, illegally in animal performance shows. It is, by evidence in athletic arenas, a problem among some human athletes,” including at least eighteen top-ranked sprinters, bicycle racers, boxers, body-builders, and baseball, football, soccer, and hockey players who have been suspended or banned from their sports since 1992 for alleged clenbuterol abuse.
“Sadly,” Garland wrote, “many of these human competitors do not realize that they could suffer heart disease that may not be reversible.”
Player tested positive after eating beef
Noted ESPN, “The Oakland Raiders will face the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football on November 21, 2016 in Mexico City as part of the league’s international series. The Raiders also hosted a fan fest as part of the NFL draft,” in April 2016 in Mexico City. Texans left tackle Duane Brown actually tested positive for clenbuterol last season after a bye-week trip to Mexico during which he ate Mexican beef, sources told ESPN. After a months-long process, Brown was finally cleared in April, sources said, allowing him to avoid what would have been a 10-game suspension. His case offers a warning for other players.”
Summarized HealthMap Alerts, “Clenbuterol is a beta-2 agonist. This drug directs the body to make lean muscle instead of fat. It has been used by body builders and various athletes in an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. It has also been used in cattle, pork, sheep, and goats to gain a competitive advantage in livestock shows as they appear more muscled.
“Clenbuterol has a very long half-life,” HealthMap Alerts continued, “and can be found in various locations in the body of animals or humans long (months) after consumption. Clenbuterol residues can affect lung and heart function in persons who have eaten liver or meat of animals given the drug. In the United States, no human illnesses have been associated with clenbuterol use in food animals,” but this is not the case abroad.
Frequent cases in Mexico
Noted Garland of ProMED, “Please note there have been at least three reported episodes of clenbuterol contaminated meat in Mexico over the last five years.” This, however, represented a significant decline from 2006, when 262 clenbuterol poisoning cases were reported in Jalisco state alone.
Only 17 clenbuterol poisoning cases were reported in Mexico in 2009, and 22 in 2010, but the decline in reported cases may chiefly reflect fear of drug cartels whose score-settling has killed as many as 120,000 people since 2006, including about 60,000 confirmed dead and 27,000 officially reported “missing.”
While the cartels are chiefly involved in producing and distributing recreational drugs, production and distribution of clenbuterol has also had a murderous history, associated with organized crime.
Clenbuterol in horsemeat
The NFL warning came ten months after a European Commission audit expressed “serious concerns” about clenbuterol turning up in horsemeat imported from Canadian slaughterhouses.
Summarized Toronto Star reporters Mary Ormsby and Dale Brazao, “Tests conducted in 2013 on horse carcasses poised to enter the human food chain showed residues of prohibited substances, including a commonly used veterinary medicine called ‘bute,’” which might actually be either of two medicines, clenbuterol and/or phenylbutazone, linked to bone-marrow disease in humans when inadvertently consumed in meat.
European Union meat import regulations, introduced in 2013, require that “All horses and burros destined for slaughter and export to Europe,” including via Canada and Mexico, “must have a passport that shows they are free from substances such as phenalbutazone and clenbuterol,” explained Horseback publisher Steven Long.
“Almost all U.S. horses have been administered a dose of bute during their lifetime,” Long wrote, suggesting that “The market for American horse meat just dwindled to almost nothing.”
Horse slaughter in Canada
Anticipating the European Union rule, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has required since July 2010 that all U.S. equines sent to be slaughtered in Canada must be accompanied by paperwork called an Equine Identification Document. The EID is a multi-page written and visual description of each horse, including declarations about any medications and vaccines given to the horse during the preceding six months. If horses have received medications or vaccines on a warning list, they are required to go through six months of withdrawal before slaughter.
At the time the EID rule was introduced, the volume of U.S. horses slaughtered in Canada had increased from 26,421 in 2006, before the last U.S. horse slaughterhouses closed in 2007, to 77,073 in 2008, but dropped to 60,252 in in 2009, remained around 60,000 per year until the European Union rule came into effect, and in the past three years has totaled 45,547, 40,936, and 45,629.
Salbutamol, a drug chemically related to clenbuterol, can also leave residues in meat which, when consumed by humans, can induce muscle cramps, disturbed vision and eye pain, and an irregular heartbeat, which may evolve into irreversible heart disease.
Beta agonists, including clenbuterol and salbutamol, can reportedly also cause complications of pregnancy and birth defects. Malaysia banned the entire beta-agonist drug class in 1996, but the Universiti Sains Malaysia Doping Control Centre in January 2007 reported finding Salbutamol residues in about 2% of more than 100 tested samples of beef, pork, mutton, and duck meat.
That finding, and suspicions that Australian sheep and cattle ranchers might have been using salbutamol to “finish” animals for export, were cited in 2011 when Indonesia for a time restricted Australian livestock imports––albeit that the Indonesian action appeared to be mostly retaliation for global humiliation experienced after then-Australian agriculture minister Joe Ludwig suspended cattle exports to Indonesia for 38 days in June and July 2011, due to concerns about cruelty in 11 Indonesian hallal slaughterhouses, exposed by Animals Australia and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation magazine show Four Corners.
Racetracks & livestock shows
Clenbuterol abuse became widely recognized after testimony presented at the 1983 trial of alleged racetrack drug dealer Howard Kinsbrunner, of Davie, Florida, indicated that he had sold clenbuterol to as many as 270 horse trainers and veterinarians in at least 11 states.
Use of clenbuterol to enhance the looks of winning animals tainted the outcomes of six major livestock exhibitions in 1993-1994, including the designation of the Future Farmer Association s American Star Farmer of 1994, and led to the disqualification of 18 of the top 35 exhibitors at the January 2006 National Western Stock Show Junior Market Lamb competition in Denver.
Human poisoning cases surfaced when 135 people were afflicted in Spain and 22 in France in 1990. Similar cases detected in Ireland in 1991 led to at least 99 criminal prosecutions during the next seven years.
But instead of discontinuing clenbuterol use, major users in the veal and lamb trade contracted the 1995 murder of Belgian veterinary inspector Karel Van Noppen. Convicted––seven years later––were weapons dealer Carl DeSchutter, livestock dealer Germain Daenen, cattle breeder Alex Vercauteren, and traveling fair worker Albert Barrez.
“Van Noppen’s zeal [in investigation Vercauteren] drew criticism from a superior, who hanged himself after Van Noppen’s murder,” Agence France-Presse revealed.
While investigating the Van Noppen murder, police raided 82 Belgian veterinary facilities, gathering documentation linking the Belgian and Dutch clenbuterol traffic to the Irish meat contamination cases and others in the U.S. where raids on veal feed distributors and veal production facilities allegedly using clenbuterol began in 1994.
Pressured by the Humane Farming Association, whose investigator Gail Eisnitz was instrumental in making clenbuterol abuse by the veal industry public, the U.S. Justice Department during the next 15 years won a string of convictions of veal industry leaders.
Eisnitz, author of the 1997 expose book Slaughterhouse, based mainly on some of her other investigations, was recipient of the 2004 Albert Schweitzer Medal, presented by the Animal Welfare Institute for outstanding lifetime achievements in animal welfare.
Veal industry leaders convicted
Among those who were federally indicted for illegal use and distribution of clenbuterol within the veal industry were Pricor BV pharmaceuticals company owner Gerard Hoogendijk, who avoided extradition to the U.S. by remaining in the Netherlands, and Jannes “John” Doppenberg, who was in 1997 fined $25,000, sentenced to serve 44 months in prison, and ordered to make restitution of $1.1 million.
Both were former business partners of Aat Groenvelt, who had introduced the use of the veal crate to North America and popularized milk-fed spring lamb, the meat of lambs raised in essentially the same conditions as crated veal calves.
The last related conviction came in 2009, when the Brown Packing Company of Milwaukee pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, and agreed to pay a fine of $2 million for illegally giving hormones and steroids to veal calves between 1997 and 2004, while marketing the meat as “all natural.”
But the crackdowns in the U.S. and Europe did not deter similar and larger clenbuterol episodes in the developing world.
In 2006, for instance, 336 people suffered clenbuterol poisoning in Shanghai, China; 70 people fell ill in Jiaxing, in 2008; 70 more were poisoned in Guangzhou in 2009; and thousands of pigs were killed and tons of pork recalled due to suspected clenbuterol contamination in a March 2011 episode touching almost all parts of China. Five alleged conspirators in the case received sentences ranging from nine years to life in prison, one of whom, Liu Xiang, drew a suspended death penalty.