The illicit use of growth promoters in animal husbandry has frequently been reported in the past. Among the drugs misused to illegally increase the benefit of stock farming, clenbuterol has held a unique position due to the substance's composition, mechanism of action, metabolism, and disposition. Particularly clenbuterol's disposition in animals' edible tissues destined for food production can cause considerable issues on consumption by elite athletes registered in national and international doping control systems as demonstrated in this case-related study. Triggered by five adverse analytical findings with clenbuterol among the Mexican national soccer team in out-of-competition controls in May 2011, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) initiated an inquest into a potential food contamination (and thus sports drug testing) problem in Mexico, the host country of the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2011. Besides 208 regular doping control samples, which were subjected to highly sensitive mass spectrometric test methods for anabolic agents, 47 meat samples were collected in team hotels during the period of the tournament and forwarded to Institute of Food Safety, RIKILT. In 14 out of 47 meat samples (30%), clenbuterol was detected at concentrations between 0.06 and 11 µg/kg. A total of 109 urine samples out of 208 doping control specimens (52%) yielded clenbuterol findings at concentrations ranging from 1-1556 pg/ml, and only 5 out of 24 teams provided urine samples that did not contain clenbuterol. At least one of these teams was on a strict 'no-meat' diet reportedly due to the known issue of clenbuterol contamination in Mexico. Eventually, owing to the extensive evidence indicating meat contamination as the most plausible reason for the extraordinary high prevalence of clenbuterol findings, none of the soccer players were sanctioned. However, elite athletes have to face severe consequences when testing positive for a prohibited anabolic agent and sufficient supporting information corroborating the scenario of inadvertent ingestion are required to be acquitted from anti-doping rule violations. Hence, governmental contribution is urgently needed to combat the illegal use of clenbuterol in stock breading.
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