WADA Issues Warning To 2022 Olympic Athletes About Drug-Contaminated Chinese Meat

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The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has doubled-down on recommending caution for 2022 Olympic athletes when consuming meat in China. It comes after confirmation of contaminated supplies and the German WADA counterpart issuing a mandate to avoid Chinese meat altogether. 

Contaminated meat has been found to contain clenbuterol, a performance-enhancing steroid. Levels have been described as being “very low” but have still caused problems for testers. WADA policy modifications were made in 2019 to reflect the likelihood of Mexican and Chinese meat, amongst others, containing the steroid.

Meat alternatives only

When not eating within the Athletes’ Village, participants in Olympic and Paralympic Games are advised to eat meat cautiously. This approach has been maintained for Beijing 2022, though a “closed-loop management system” means that external dining is prohibited anyway. As part of a Covid-19 prevention plan, keeping all athletes contained means greater control over food provisions should be possible.

In a statement, a spokesperson for WADA said it is the “responsibility of event organisers and Governments to ensure the meat available to athletes is not contaminated”. For Beijing 2022, the Athletes’ Village supplies will need to be carefully vetted.

Meat and performance enhancing

Clenbuterol has been found in multiple global meat production systems. Mexico, despite making it a criminal offence to use the anabolic enhancer, has come under fire for the practice, in light of suspected poisonings. China banned the production, use, and sale of the steroid back in 2011, to increase food safety. It came after mass sickness was attributed to contaminated pork. Despite the ban, widespread usage has been reported as still occurring. Farmers’ that want to maximise muscle growth and meat yield is the leading reason for use.

In an Olympic context, clenbuterol has historically proven problematic for drug testers. Particularly in countries where contaminated meat is frequently served. In line with this, WADA changed its guidelines to allow for 5ng/mL or less in any sample.

“When the circumstances of a positive case indicate that the athlete has been in one of the identified countries where clenbuterol meat contamination is significant, the anti-doping community views it as unreasonable to put the burden of proof on the athlete, i.e. to prove that the meat, which he or she had consumed, was contaminated,” the WADA spokesperson confirmed. “However, before a case is closed on the basis of low clenbuterol levels consistent with contamination, WADA recommends careful investigation of each case, considering such things as meat intake and whether there was exposure to a geographical area where contaminated meat is known to be prevalent.”

Adding layers of extra red tape, WADA also recommends avoiding meat where possible. 

China’s love affair with meat

As plant-based alternatives gain traction around the world, China continues to see a rise in meat consumption. The largest pork consumer in the world, China has demonstrated a mixed reception to meat alternatives.

Last December, a documentary promoting vegetarianism came under attack. Suspicions surrounding plant-based meat led to criticism. Some commenters viewed the film as proof of a “blind worship of western culture”.

Despite presenting a challenge, China is a potential plant-based powerhouse. The domestic alternative protein sector is growing. It was reported this week that the government has allocated funds to develop the industry, with a focus on scale-up. Though state investment represents just a fraction of what it could afford, the shift towards acceptance offers optimism. Previous pork supply issues have been cited as a potential motivator for the government to fund suitable alternatives that can be manufactured within the country.


All images courtesy of Unsplash.

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