A new way to test for illegal drugs used in cattle and horses may soon be developed by scientists at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and the Irish Equine Centre.
According to QUB, it will be the first ever animal doping test to work through detecting and monitoring the known biological effects of a banned substance, rather than the presence of the substance itself. This test will also have the potential of revolutionizing animal drug testing by enabling the screening of large numbers of animals more quickly and efficiently than is presently possible.
Scientists at Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security would join hands with the Irish Equine Centre, and partners across Europe for developing the test for banned growth promoters, hormones, and antibiotics used on animals destined for the food chain and those involved in sport.
Queen’s involvement in the EU funded DeTECH21 project is headed by Dr Mark Mooney from the Institute for Global Food Security. He remarked current testing methods focus on detecting the presence of illegal substances in animals and these tests are expensive, time consuming, and have failed to keep pace with black market developments in producing, distributing and administering banned substances. He added that the danger is that these substances go undetected and find their way into the food chain and the new test will help mitigate that risk.
Dr Mooney also said we are developing an entirely new approach based on monitoring the physiological effects of banned drugs, rather than directly detecting the presence of those drugs. He also added that by identifying the unique biochemical fingerprints that banned substances leave behind in an illicitly treated animal’s blood or urine, we will be able to quickly identify horses or cattle that have been treated with an illegal drug. He further added that this has the potential to enable more efficient screening of larger numbers of animals than is currently possible and any animal in which the biological response of a banned substance is detected would then be singled-out for further tests to identify exactly which illicit substances are present.
The test will be developed at Queen’s Institute for Global Food Security. The institute’s director, Professor Chris Elliott, is presently conducting the official independent review of the UK’s food supply network, commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department of Health following the horsemeat fraud.
Professor Elliott said that despite being banned for over 20 years, the use of illegal growth promoters, hormones, and antibiotics is believed to still occur across parts of Europe and further afield. He added that the criminal gangs that operate the global trade in illegal animal drugs have developed the means of avoiding detection by conventional testing methods and new ways to detect this illicit trade are urgently required.
The Irish Equine Centre, based at Johnstown in Co Kildare, will lead the overall management of the DeTECH21 project. Project Co-coordinator Mark Sherry from the Irish Equine Centre said greater testing efficiency will lead to higher and faster detection and give the upper-hand in the battle between testers and dopers back to those upholding the law. He added that the new test will allow testers to identify the presence of performance or presentation enhancing drugs as soon as their desired effect becomes apparent.