CALGARY — The Calgary Stampede may know how to organize a rodeo, but it botched its drug testing program at this year’s steer show, says one of Canada’s leading experts on drug testing.
Blood samples from the disqualified steer rather than meat residues were used for the tests, and the blood was sent to a horse laboratory, said Dr. Patricia Dowling, professor of veterinary clinical pharmacology at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, at last week’s appeal process in Calgary. As well, no baseline numbers were established as a minimum drug residue amount.
“All credit to (the Calgary Stampede) wanting to institute a drug program, but this is not a good one. This is poorly planned and the rights of the competitors were seriously violated,” said Dowling, co-director of a national food safety database and an expert witness for horse organizations such as Equine Canada and the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency.
“A whole lot of the problems that have arisen are because the rules are not adequate, and they did not follow the proper procedures.”
The Calgary Stampede disqualified the winners of the Steer Classic competition Aug. 2 after the steer tested positive for the drugs Banamine and ibuprofen.
The steer’s o-owners, Riley Chalack of Carstairs, Alta., and Royden An-derson of Didsbury, Alta., have appealed the decision because they believe they did nothing wrong and the targeted blood tests came out of past grudges by competitors.
“I’m not here for the money or the prize,” Anderson wrote in his presentation to the appeal panel, referring to the $10,000 prize that has since been given to the second place winner.
“I’m here for the reputations of the people that this fiasco has harmed.… Lots of people have been wrongfully accused, resulting in public humiliation, ridicule at other shows, devastated family members and created doubt in Riley and I.”
The steer was brought from the United States just before the show after its young owner, Ryan Jackson, moved from Vermont to Kansas and was not eligible for steer shows in either area.
The calf had stepped on a fluffing comb at its first show and seven teeth broke off in its foot. The animal was nursed back to health, but a limp was sometimes apparent. The show fitters at the Calgary Stampede worried the steer was still limping and asked the Stampede’s accredited veterinarian if they could use the drug Anafen.
The veterinarian recommended Banamine instead.
Anderson said the owners realized after the steer was disqualified that no one had given it the drug in the frenzy of preparing it for the show.
“It wasn’t given Banamine at the show,” said Anderson.
The traces of the drug that showed up in the blood sample were from a previous dose, he added.
“We do not believe in unethical behaviour, we don’t believe in un-sportsmanlike conduct and we believe in being open and transparent to the public and the media,” said Anderson.
Calgary Stampede officials made their presentation to the appeal Sept. 3, and Chalack and Anderson made their presentation Sept. 10.
The appeal board comprises provincial court judge Gordon Burrell, Charolais breeder Hazel George of Airdrie, Alta., retired Calgary veterinarian Dr. Don Moore and Calgary Stampede vice-president Paul Rosenberg.
Stampede lawyer Christine Plante of Bennett Jones said in a letter that Anderson and Chalack’s steer was disqualified on three points:
- Using a drug not approved for use in food-producing animals in Canada.
- Showing an animal not free of drug residue.
- Showing an animal that was unfit.
However, Dowling said Anderson and Chalack didn’t violate any rules because flunixin (Banamine) and ibuprofen are in the Canadian Food and Drug Regulations and the drug residue was not correctly tested.
She said the Canadian Food Inspection Agency tests from the muscle, liver or kidney rather than from a blood sample when it tests for drug residue. As well, the blood sample taken from the steer was sent to an equine laboratory and tested with equine blood, which invalidated the results.
“In this case, they are testing bovine plasma against standards in horse plasma and that’s simply not acceptable,” she said. “It wouldn’t be acceptable if you were riding in the Tour de France and they sent your samples to the horse lab.”
She said officials must determine the amount of drug in the sample that is a concern before tests are sent to a laboratory. Laboratories can detect even the smallest amount of drugs that may have been given months ago. While the laboratory found flunixin, it was below the limit of detection of the assay and technically not a positive result.
“This is a very small amount.”
The amount of ibuprofen found was 240 nanograms per mL, which Dowling said was so small an animal could have obtained it if a handler swallowed a pill and then touched the steer’s mouth.
“It has no scientific validity. This is as good as saying there was a whiff.”
Dowling also had concerns about the Stampede destroying the blood sample so soon after it had been taken.
Anderson was told the sample was destroyed after he asked that it be sent to a bovine lab for retesting. Dowling said well-designed drug testing programs allow the accused the opportunity to have the blood sample retested.
“There has not been a explanation of why the sample was discarded, whether it was accidental or whether someone directed the laboratory to dispose of it. I do find that very odd because it’s customary for them to keep any of our equine samples for 45 days,” she said.
“Mr. Anderson and company was immediately denied the due process right of having that sample retested by a validated bovine assay.”
Logan Chalack, Riley Chalack’s cousin and a witness at the appeal to the discussion with the Stampede veterinarian, said the disqualification was poorly handled and shines a bad light on the industry.
“It’s bad for everyone. It’s bad for agriculture, it’s bad for the Stampede, it’s bad for us as exhibitors,” said Chalack, who believes improved communication could have eliminated a lot of the problems.
“It puts a bad taste in your mouth. It definitely will hurt the show because there will be exhibitors who don’t want to come back.”
RCMP cpl. Christian Reister, who is a livestock investigator, said he was asked to attend the hearing because the disqualified steer was taken off the Stampede grounds without the owners’ consent. Reister said he doesn’t have enough details to know who owned the steer at what time, but owners must give consent before an animal is transported.
After the competition, the steer was supposed to go to Balzac Meats for slaughter. Instead it was taken to steer committee chair Don Miller’s farm to wait for the test results.
Anderson said he does not know when they will hear the results of the appeal.
Kurt Kadetz, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, said staff are unable to talk about the case until the appeal is finished.