The National Football League (NFL) recently warned players to avoid steroid-contaminated meat from China and Mexico. Meat produced in those countries, the league advised in a notice sent to players, could contain clenbuterol, a muscle-building and weight-loss stimulant that the NFL bans under its policy on performance-enhancing substances.
“Players are responsible for what is in their bodies,” a memo circulated this week advised. ”Consuming large quantities of meat while visiting those particular countries may result in a positive test.”
One player already knows about the perils of Mexican meat. Last season Duane Brown, a left tackle for the Houston Texans, spent a bye-week (a rest week each team gets during the regular season) in Mexico and ate beef there. Afterwards he tested positive for clenbuterol. Only by providing details of what and where he ate was he able to clear himself and avoid a 10-game suspension.
In 2011, five players with Mexico’s national soccer team tested positive for clenbuterol. Then, too, the steroid’s presence in their bodies was traced back to meat they ate. They were cleared of any doping offense, but only after missing out on a major tournament.
That same year over 100 teenage soccer players preparing for the Under-17 World Cup ran into the same problem. FIFA and the World Anti-Doping Agency acquitted them of any wrongdoing, blaming the failed tests on contaminated meat. The agency then shelved a similar case involving Philip Nielsen, a Danish cyclist who tested positive for clenbuterol after the 2010 Tour of Mexico.
Though Mexico has banned clenbuterol for use in livestock, ranchers there have been known to use the steroid to help increase meat yields. Last year authorities inspected 200 slaughterhouses and found clenbuterol in livestock in nearly 60 of them. Mexico’s national sports commission said last week that coaches are keeping a careful watch on what meat is supplied to athletes ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic games.
In 2011 Chinese authorities arrested hundreds involved in the selling and making of clenbuterol for illegal use in pig feed. While few NFL players may be vacationing in China right now, by 2018 the league expects to make its long-delayed debut there with a regular-season game. And China, the world’s largest pork producer, exports pork to Hong Kong and Japan.
Two NFL teams in particular should be concerned after the league’s warning. As part of the NFL National Series, the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders will play in Mexico City in November. Going vegetarian for a bit might be a good call.