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Did Clenbuterol Residue In Beef Cause Alberto Contador's Positive Doping Test?

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Three-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is blaming contaminated filet mignon brought in from Spain by a friend of the team chef, for his positive doping test.

A World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Germany found a "very small concentration" of clenbuterol--a banned substance--in his urine sample.

"It is a clear case of food contamination," Contador said at a news conference. "I am sad and disappointed but hold my head high."

But, is it really a clear case of food contamination? Not exactly.

Clenbuterol, which is illegal to give to livestock intended for consumption in the US, is sometimes used in Europe to increase animals' growth rate. However, the amount needed to promote growth in animals is somewhere between five and 10 times the therapeutic dose. That said, clenbuterol is heat-stable, so it can't easily be cooked out of a serving of meat.

Clenbuterol has been found in humans after ingesting meat that had been treated with clenbuterol.

A study by M. Ellen Doyle at the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin reported:

"Veterinary drug residues in meat have been reported to cause toxic or allergic reactions in humans although such reports are uncommon. The most notable recent occurrence involved consumption of Mexican beef containing residues of the illegal growth promoter, clenbuterol. During December 2005, at least 225 people in Jalisco reported symptoms of trembling, headache, and malaise after consuming beef or beef liver containing residues of this drug. Another outbreak associated with clenbuterol in beef affected at least 125 people in Spain in 1990."

350 people in two occurrences over a 15 year span is uncommon, surely. It is also uncommon that only one rider, in this case, Contador, would test positive when the beef was ostensibly purchased for the entire team.

Adding to the confusion is this:

According to the Hong Kong University Medical Doctors' Association, "Clenbuterol is concentrated in the lung, liver and kidney. Hence, most of the previous reports from Europe involved bovine liver rather than beef."

Granted, the amount discovered in Contador's system was extremely low. On the other hand, he said he ate bovine muscle, not organ meat, which, as noted, is much more likely to contain traces of clenbuterol.

We'll have to wait until an official ruling is made to know what penalties, if any, Contador will face. Though, as it will be virtually impossible to determine how the clenbuterol actually entered his system, we may never know the truth.
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