There is more at stake than just the reputation of 4-H and the Indiana State Fair when 4-H’ers and parents or other adults choose to use drugs against the rules to gain an edge in the show ring. “It’s also about food safety and protecting the food supply,” Doug Huntsinger says.
Huntsinger is executive producer of the Indiana State Fair. Recently, he took time for an exclusive interview with Indiana Prairie Farmer to clear up rumors and present facts about drugs in animals and cheating at the Indiana State Fair.
IPF: How many animals tested positive for drugs at this year’s fair?
Huntsinger: Three animals that would have been involved in the Celebration of Champions were disqualified. An additional eight animals that were either champions, reserve champions or selected at random for drug testing showed positive tests. Two animals were disqualified when we discovered they were older than allowed by the rules.
IPF: How does the number of animals that tested positive for drugs this year compare to past years?
Huntsinger: From 2012 through 2016, the number testing positive were 13, 10, 10, 4 and 11, respectively.
IPF: Why do you think the number was lower in 2015?
Huntsinger: There could be a number of reasons. There is really no way to know. We test for different drugs in various years. It could also be that some of the people disqualified in earlier years were no longer participating in 4-H.
IPF: What drugs does the testing program look for?
Huntsinger: Banamine and zilpaterol are on the list every year. Our people who work closely with the program and the livestock industry determine which other drugs to test for in any one year.
IPF: How do you decide which animals to test? How many animals were tested this year?
Huntsinger: Champions, reserve champions and animals in the Celebration of Champions are tested. In addition, there is an extensive random drug testing program. Animals are selected at random based on how they placed in a class. Placing numbers are determined at random in advance. There were 351 animals tested in 2016, including horses. We had around 10,000 animals exhibited in 2016.
IPF: Are there measures in place to determine that positive tests are accurate?
Huntsinger: Yes. Urine samples are first tested at the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University. If there is a positive test, a different technician runs a test using the same sample. If both tests are positive, then the sample is sent to an independent lab. Technicians there use even more sophisticated methods. The same sample is again tested by two different technicians. So when we announce that an animal tested positive, it’s based on four test results. This process is expensive. The Indiana State Fair spends approximately $15,000 on the drug testing program annually.
IPF: How are penalties determined for drug violations?
Huntsinger: They are spelled out in the rules displayed online. If the drug is not approved for that species, then it’s considered a much more serious violation. It’s a violation of USDA and Food and Drug Administration rules.
IPF: What is the penalty for that type of violation?
Huntsinger: The rules spell out that the 4-H’er is disqualified, not only with that animal, but with all 4-H projects exhibited at the fair. Then a ban is imposed that prevents the 4-H’er from participating in the Indiana State Fair for two years. If someone was disqualified in 2016, they could not show at the Indiana Stare Fair again until 2019.
IPF: Does the ban apply to only the 4-H’er directly involved, or to all family members?
Huntsinger: It applies only to the 4-H’er who violated the rule. Individuals sign up for 4-H, so when it comes to situations like this, they are dealt with individually.
IPF: What if the drug is approved for use in the species, but still found in the animal?
Huntsinger: If it’s a first offense, the animal is disqualified and not eligible for ribbons or awards. However, the 4-H’er can still participate in other projects, and can participate in the Indiana State Fair in the following year.
IPF: What kind of instances lead to a drug approved for the species being found in an animal?
Huntsinger: Obviously, sometimes it’s to try to gain an advantage in the ring. However, we have people tell us they just made a mistake. Perhaps they gave a shot at home and thought it would be out of the system. It’s still a disqualification.
IPF: Two animals were disqualified after the fair for being too old. What happens in those cases?
Huntsinger: The penalties are not spelled out in the rules as they are for drug violations. The decision is up to Jason Henderson, Purdue University Extension director representing the 4-H program, and myself. We typically apply the same type of punishment we would apply for an animal found with a drug approved for the species. The animal is disqualified, but the 4-H’er can show again at the state fair the following year.
IPF: Which animals were disqualified for being too old in 2016?
Huntsinger: The grand champion barrow and a gilt were disqualified. The rules clearly state when these animals must be born. The exhibitor of the grand champion barrow did not receive awards or premiums for that barrow, and it was stripped of the title. We did not name a grand champion barrow in 2016.
IPF: Is there an appeal process if someone objects to their penalty?
Huntsinger: Yes. It’s spelled out, and we follow it carefully. It becomes a legal matter.
IPF: Are results of the drug tests public information?
Huntsinger: Yes. In the past we have listed them on the website later in the year. We typically wait until the appeals process is completed. But it is public information.
IPF: Will drug testing continue in the future?
Huntsinger: Yes. The Indiana State Fair has a zero-tolerance policy for this type of drug use in animals. We believe we have a really good system that works, and we are going to continue it in the future.