Friday, February 6, 2004

Livestock cheating harder

Ohio gets strict on checking drug use, enhancements

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

EATON, OHIO - The debate over performance-enhancing drugs isn't just on baseball diamonds and football fields. It's also in the barns and show rings of Ohio fairs.

Some livestock exhibitors have illegally given their cattle injections to increase muscle mass, or even glued hair along their backs to make them appear fuller, state officials say.

A 17-year-old from Eaton lost his awards, prizes and money earned from the Preble County Fair after a mandatory drug screening found promazine in his grand champion reserve steer. Promazine, a tranquilizer often prescribed to humans, is illegal for animals in competitions. Though the steer had the illegal tranquilizer in its system, a state investigation found no evidence proving the drug was intentionally given to the animal, said Melanie Wilt of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

"The drug could calm the animal down in the show ring," said Wilt, who showed animals with 4-H as a child. "It may or may not have been a competitive advantage."

But Wilt said "animal doping" at fairs and contests has dropped over the years, partly because of Ohio's Livestock Show Reform Act. The act, created after a 1994 scandal at the Ohio State Fair, calls for mandatory drug screenings for winning animals.

That year, seven of the top steers and the grand champion lamb were disqualified for drug or vegetable oil injections, which make animal skin appear fuller and smoother.

The 17-year-old's steer, though slaughtered and put into the food supply, was held for 13 days to allow the drug to pass out of the flesh, Wilt said.

Meanwhile, "cosmetic changes" are still a problem. Three senior competitors in the 2003 state fair were disqualified this week for creating "artificial toplines" for their cows, by gluing natural hair to the cow's back.

"It appears straighter; it looks like a perfectly formed animal, but it may have a flaw disguised by the tampering," Wilt said.

However, some claim the state's "no tolerance" policy disqualifies the unknowing more often than those cheating.

Ryan Daulton's lamb won first prize at the 2003 state fair. But in December, the state accused Daulton, 18, of giving his lamb ractopamine, an illegal performance-enhancing nutritional supplement.

"Sheep were my life, it basically ruined everything," the Georgetown resident said. "After it all came out, I didn't believe it."

Daulton said he changed the kind of feed he was giving the lamb during the week of the fair. The feed, manufactured by Rowe Premix Inc. of West Manchester, had put the supplement in lamb food.

Though the Department of Agriculture is investigating Rowe Premix, Daulton still had to give up his prize money and his championship win. The Daultons have retained a lawyer and are trying to get Ryan's championship and prize money back.

Julie Dalzell, in charge of Youth Development for Butler County's 4-H, said kids who get snared by the no-tolerance policy often didn't know what ingredients are in their animals' feed.

Butler County holds three quality assurance meetings a year for livestock-showing children and their families to teach what to look for and how to protect their animals.

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