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.”
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.
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.”