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Basque officials insist their beef is clenbuterol-free

  • By Andrew Hood
  • Published Oct. 26, 2010
  • Updated Oct. 26, 2010 at 3:29 PM EST

Alberto Contador’s claims that his positive test for traces of clenbuterol came from eating contaminated Spanish steaks certainly hasn’t won him any friends among Spain’s beef industry.

Contador alleges that a friend purchased steaks in Irun, a city near the Spanish-French border in Spain’s Basque Country, and brought them into France, where he later dined on them ahead of the surprise control that revealed traces of the banned drug in his system.

The president of the Basque regional government, Patxi López, vigorously backed the quality of Basque Country beef during a recent speech in front of the Basque parliament.

“The consumer, whether he’s a cyclist or not, can have all the possible guarantees that the meat they buy does not contain residues like that of clenbuterol,” López was quoted by the Spanish wire service EFE. “The controls performed in (Basque Country) are the strictest possible and the products are of the highest quality.”

López also said beef produced within the Basque Country as well as products brought in from other parts of Spain undergo a “strenuous series of controls to guarantee their quality.”

Over the past decade, Spain has tightened controls on beef in large part following an outbreak of “mad cow disease” (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Since then, Spain has rigorously controlled the origin, diet and transport of beef to prevent further outbreaks and to comply with strict EU rules to assure that beef is safe for human consumption.

Clenbuterol was banned by the European Union in 1996. According to The Associated Press, the EU tested more than 83,000 animal samples in Europe between 2008 and 2009, and found just one positive case. During the same period, no traces of the drug were found in more than 19,000 samples tested in Spain.

There are reports that clenbuterol, which is used to fatten cattle before slaughter, continues to be administered illicitly by some ranchers in Spain. Just last week, Spanish police uncovered a clenbuterol distribution ring in the Canary Islands where the drug was being prescribed by veterinarians to horse and cattle ranches.

Contador, meanwhile, is keeping a low profile until the UCI and WADA make a decision on his case. He did not attend last week’s presentation of the route of the 2011 Tour de France and declined interview requests from VeloNews and other media outlets.

Contador faces a possible two-year ban and the disqualification from the 2010 Tour victory if he’s unable to convince anti-doping authorities of his argument.

UCI president Pat McQuaid, speaking during last week’s presentation of the 2011 Tour de France in Paris on Tuesday, asked for patience in the ongoing Contador investigation as the World Anti-Doping Agency reviews the case.

“This is a very important case and we have to be completely sure … if and when the decision is taken,” McQuaid told reporters. “It’s quite complicated. WADA are doing work with scientists and specialists in this area and we’re waiting for the results to come back.”

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Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood

Andrew Hood cut his journalistic teeth at Colorado dailies before the web boom opened the door to European cycling in the mid-1990s. Hood has covered every Tour de France since 1996 and has been VeloNews' European correspondent since 2002.

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