The Indiana 4-H program has made changes in the livestock testing procedure for this year’s State Fair, following allegations of cheating by some exhibitors. Over the past 4 years, dozens of champion 4-H livestock have been disqualified because of drug residues found in the animals after the competition. Last year alone, all of the top sheep entries were disqualified for traces of banned drug substances. Aaron Fisher, head of the state 4-H livestock program, told HAT that this year the animals will be tested as soon as they are chosen as winners, “What that does is it allows us to get their tissue samples sooner in an attempt to get the drug testing results before the State Fair Celebration of Champions.” State Fair officials have moved the recognition of the champions and the awarding of scholarship money to the last day of the fair in order to make sure any animal that fails the drug tests will not be included in the awards program.
Last year over $20,000 in prize money was forfeited by exhibitors because tests showed their animals had traces of substances used to enhance their appearance. Yet Fisher said the problem is relatively small and that most 4-H animals are clean, “Most 4-H families do the right thing, and we want to focus on the majority who do things right and not draw attention to those who break the rules.” According to State Fair records, of the 2,278 animals entered into last year’s state fair livestock competitions, 329 of those animals (14%) were drug tested. All of the initial testing takes place at the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.
In an investigative report by WTHR-TV, evidence that State Fair and 4-H officials have been aware of the issue for years was uncovered, “Internal documents obtained by 13 Investigates show dozens of Indiana State Fair contestants have been disciplined in the past four years after their show animals tested positive for drugs. Most of them were top prize winners in the sheep, cattle, and swine competitions.” The Indiana State Fair started testing show animals for banned substances and illegal drugs in 1992, and the program was strengthened a few years later in response to a cheating scandal discovered nearby. After the 1994 Ohio State Fair, meat inspectors found the grand champion and reserve grand champion steers were tainted with banned substances.
WTHR reported that the Purdue lab detected two unapproved drugs in last year’s group of winning sheep. The first is Zilpaterol (brand name Zilmax), a common feed additive that builds muscle mass in cattle, but is not approved for use in sheep. The second is methylprednisolone, also known as Depo-Medrol, that can be used to treat pain associated with arthritis, tendinitis, and other musculoskeletal conditions in horses and dogs. It is not approved for use in lambs, yet some competitors inject it under the skin to help hide and reduce wrinkles when sheep are sheared for competition.
The use of these substances is quite common in commercial livestock shows and perhaps at county fairs. Fisher says there are no plans to drug test 4-H livestock at the county level, “There are so many things that go into it in terms of who is doing the testing, that we do not recommend drug testing at the county level.” However, state 4-H officials are taking a hard line when it comes to competition at the State Fair. “That’s why the Indiana State Fair and 4-H spend about $16,000 each year to test for drug residues in livestock entries at the state fairgrounds, and why they’ve implemented strict guidelines and harsh penalties for violators,”
Indiana 4-H Program Leader Dr. Renee McKee told WTHR. Fisher says funds that were taken away from exhibitors were given the Indiana State Fair Foundation.