09/13/2010 3:31PM

Feed supplement seen as mimicking steroids


A handful of positive tests for a drug that mimics the effects of steroids by building muscle mass have been turning up across the country, and with four cases in Louisiana, the state racing commission has proposed some rule changes to address what it calls an “emerging trend.”

The drug is ractopamine, and it is the active ingredient in “finishing” feed supplements used to bulk up swine in the weeks before they head to the show ring or slaughter. It is not a steroid, but as a repartitioning agent it helps keep nutrients from going into fat stores so as to enhance muscle mass. Ractopamine is approved by the government for use in swine, but not horses.

Since 2005, there have been nine ractopamine positives nationally, with eight of those cases since 2009, said Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which has long tracked the drug in its role as a trade association for state regulators.

“It didn’t show up for years, then it started popping up in a few incidences,” Martin said.

Martin said the positives, which only count closed cases, have come in California, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey and New Mexico.

The RCI lists ractopamine as a Category 3 drug, or drugs that may or may not have a therapeutic use in horses and may have the potential to affect performance. The RCI’s recommended penalty for ractopamine, in the absence of mitigating circumstances, is a trainer suspension of one to three years and a fine of $10,000 or 10 percent of the purse, whichever is greater.

“The recommended penalty is the harshest penalty because this is a substance that has no business being in the horse,” Martin said. “What we believe is happening since the prohibition of anabolic steroids is that some people are looking to this, which is a feed supplement to swine, which we interpret as a move to cheat.”

Louisiana has adjudicated two ractopamine cases and has two pending, according to Barker. The Louisiana Racing Commission is seeking to add a clause to its rules that prohibits possession of “any feed products containing drugs not otherwise and expressly approved for use in race horses.”

Final approvals for the Louisiana rule changes could take up to six months, with the state commission having taken the first step by adopting them for proposal.

“The Louisiana Racing Commission was very proactive,” Barker said, noting it contacted the Food and Drug Administration and got advice on how ractopamine is being sold and used in Louisiana.

Trainer Terry Vance had Louisiana’s first ractopamine positive in December, and while he does not dispute he fed the horse a product containing the drug, the mitigating circumstances he brought forward in an appeal led the commission to reduce his suspension from six months to 60 days.

“The reason I went before the commission was I was just buying this stuff as a feed additive for weight gain for horses, horses I couldn’t kept weight on,” Vance said. “A number of people were feeding it. It was word of mouth. I was buying it over the counter at the local feed store. I wasn’t trying to get around anybody. I didn’t know any different at the time.”

Vance said when he learned of the positive test, he and his veterinarian went through the different feed supplements in his stable.

“We had to do some digging to see where this stuff came from,” Vance said. “It was in a product I was feeding called Explode.”

Ractopamine is the active ingredient in Paylean, which is in some “finishing” products including Explode. Vance said he has stopped feeding the product, which he said costs about $25 for a 25-pound bag.

Oklahoma has not had a positive for ractopamine, but regulators have heard about instances in other states in which feed for horses has been contaminated by products containing the drug. It adds to the complexity of the issue.

“I’ve heard that feed mills have already been seen to cause a problem by using Paylean one day and making some sweet feed product the next day for equine,” said Tino Rieger, the executive director for the Oklahoma Racing Commission. “If they don’t clean their machinery efficiently enough, all of the sudden you have some contamination, and that contamination is completely unbeknownst to the trainer, and all of the sudden he’s got a potential violation.”

But Rieger said there are horsemen who will deliberately use ractopamine for its steroid-like qualities and he has been closely following the drug, as well as the emergence of zilpaterol, a similar drug for cattle. Rieger said he first heard of ractopamine during the spring of 2009.

“We have aggressively looked for the drug in samples for more than a year now, more like a year and a half, and we have not seen one hit in Oklahoma,” he said. “There are a few of our folks out there that will take a shot, and hopefully, we can catch them. That’s the purpose of extensive drug testing.”