Clenbuterol abuse by farmers still rampant

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 November, 2011, 12:00am

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Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador (pictured) will learn of his punishment next week for testing positive for a minute dose of the banned steroid clenbuterol. This will put the focus once again on a chemical that, despite being banned in China, is an increasing problem in this part of the world.

Contador claims he unknowingly ingested the substance in tainted meat. If true, he wouldn't be alone. The drug, which is used to treat asthma but is abused by athletes as a performance-enhancing substance, is widely added to animal feed to keep meat lean.

Reports of clenbuterol-related food contamination appear regularly on the mainland. Once confined to pigs, its use has spread to other livestock. Last month, authorities in Dongying, Shandong province, found that many sheep breeders were adding the banned substance to their feed and that tainted mutton had been shipped to 17 provinces.

The Hong Kong Sports Institute has banned pig offal from the menu for its elite athletes. In August, Hong Kong badminton star Zhou Mi was suspended for two years after testing positive for a trace of the drug. She insisted it came from tainted pork.

Many top athletes on the mainland have condemned the farm practice, worried it will ruin the careers of elite performers, and urged the government to take tougher action.

In Hong Kong, experts in sports medicine urge athletes to take extra care, particularly as most of the city's food comes from the mainland, the world's largest producer and consumer of pork. Beijing banned the substance in the late 1990s after 17 Hong Kong residents were poisoned by clenbuterol-tainted pork.

Nevertheless, more than 480 people in Heyuan , Guangdong, became sick after ingesting the drug in 2001. This year, Shuanghui, the nation's largest meat processor, was discovered using clenbuterol-fed pork. Six months later, Yurun, the second-largest processor, was embroiled in the same scandal.

1,000

The approximate number of arrests so far in a year-long crackdown on clenbuterol abuse in raising livestock