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How state fair champions testedHow state fair champions tested

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has disqualified one junior livestock exhibitor based on champion animal urine tests following the 2021 Illinois State Fair.

Holly Spangler

January 7, 2022

3 Min Read
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker
SALE PROCEEDS: Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at the Governor’s Sale of Champions during the 2021 Illinois State Fair. The disqualified exhibitor must forfeit all monetary awards, including proceeds from the Sale of Champions. Sierra Day

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has confirmed that one of the 2021 Illinois State Fair junior champion livestock animals failed its drug test and has been disqualified.

“In order to protect the identity of the minor, the department will not disclose the animal,” says Mark Ernst, IDOA division manager for animal health and welfare. Ernst, who also serves as Illinois state veterinarian, adds the unapproved drug found in the animal’s system was flunixin. Flunixin is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug typically sold under the brand name Banamine, and is approved for use in some market species, including cattle and hogs.

The disqualified junior will be banned from state fair competition for three years, and will forfeit all monetary awards, including proceeds from the Sale of Champions. He or she will also return trophies and non-monetary awards and forfeit the title, and photos cannot be used in advertising or promotion, as explained in the state fair premium book, pages 18-21.

As in years past, the exhibitor could file a petition to appeal with IDOA Director Jerry Costello within 10 days of receiving the notice of disqualification from IDOA. The director makes a ruling, and the exhibitor could appeal again to a circuit court, pursuant to the administrative review law.

Ernst says IDOA can’t comment on whether the exhibitor filed a petition to appeal or not.

The fair typically disqualifies one to three animals each year, he says, and adds there’s no real pattern or trend around the species disqualified.

“It is our expectation that exhibitors continue to realize the importance of exhibiting ‘slaughter-eligible’ animals and the potential issues that may arise if substance residues are detected,” Ernst says. “After all, these animals are entering the food chain.”

Testing procedures

State fair testing procedures have remained largely unchanged, with only a slight adjustment in 2021.

After the champion and reserve champion animals are chosen, an IDOA employee is assigned to stay with the animal until a urine sample is collected. Typically, the staff person collects the urine sample, but this year for the first time, exhibitors could collect the urine sample under observation by that staff person.

Regardless of who actually collects the sample, Ernst says the exhibitor or their representative has to stay with the sample and the animal until the sample is sealed and labeled; then they sign it over.

“In order to ensure the integrity of the competition, IDOA does not disclose a complete list of substances that are being tested for,” he adds.

The samples then go to the University of Illinois-Chicago Analytical Forensic Testing Laboratory for testing. Ernst says the results of the urine tests are final, and additional tissue tests are performed at slaughter for additional substances beyond those detected in urine. Those tissue samples are tested at a USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service laboratory.

Zero tolerance?

Ernst maintains IDOA’s zero tolerance policy for the presence of any drug not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The urine test that is performed is a qualitative test, not a quantitative test, meaning it does not reveal how much of a drug is in the animal’s system. Still, if the market animal tests positive for any non-FDA-approved drug, the animal is disqualified.

In terms of residue from FDA-approved drugs, all market animals are supposed to be slaughter-eligible when they enter the fairgrounds.

“This means there should be no food safety risks due to substance residues in their tissues,” Ernst explains. “USDA FSIS has established tissue residue tolerance levels for certain substances, particularly some antibiotics, below which do not constitute a food safety issue.”

However, he points out, that does not apply to urine testing, which is strictly a positive or negative test.

IDOA updated the drug testing section of the state fair premium book prior to the 2020 Illinois State Fair, which was canceled, but declined to specify what changes were made.

“IDOA is confident in our testing protocols,” Ernst says. “The department has the authority to collect samples from any market animal at any time while on the fairgrounds, and testing is done in collaboration with a national accredited laboratory.”

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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