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UC Davis Testing at the State Fair Livestock Competition Ensures Fair Competition and Food Safety

October 23, 2015

UC Davis veterinary medicine students help to collect urine samples under supervision of the fair veterinarian

UC Davis veterinary medicine students help to collect urine samples under supervision of the fair veterinarian

A California State Fair highlight for children with 4-H and FFA clubs from across the state is the Junior Livestock Market Competition. Here they have the opportunity to put their animal education into practice through competing beef and dairy cattle, sheep, pigs, and market and dairy goats. Division champions and reserve champions (runner ups) can win thousands of dollars and other prizes, in addition to bragging rights for the prestige and recognition that accompany the winning title of ‘champion’. Those earnings might go into a student’s college fund or allow them to purchase animals for future projects.

While on the outside, there is much pomp surrounding the competition, behind the scenes you will find a serious business to ensure fair competition and, ultimately, a safe food product through an arduous and high-quality residue testing program provided by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. No animal winning division or reserve champion can go to auction without undergoing testing for antibiotics and other prescription medication, including drugs for growth promotion and even enhanced performance.

Jay Carlson, agriculture programs manager for the CA State Fair, says that a goal of the program is to demonstrate learning all aspects of how to raise an animal in the ‘real world’ – such as feeding, nutrition and budgeting. At the same time, he says, it’s very important that kids understand that their animals will be sold and become part of the food chain, and that they have a responsibility to ensure food safety.

 “Partnering with UC Davis ensures the integrity of the competition and food safety,” said Carlson.

Rapid and reliable testing

Paula Lee with UC Davis serves as the State Fair’s residue clerk and coordinates the critical job of collecting and logging samples under scrutiny akin to White House security. She directs and organizes the collection of urine samples under supervision of the fair veterinarian with the help of UC Davis animal sciences and veterinary medicine students.  She then trains them how to correctly gather the samples from winners of each breed species.

Lee and her staff then label the samples with legal identification tape and place them into locked and secure ice chests. Following a chain of custody, they are transported to the diagnostic laboratories of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory (CAHFS) at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

When the samples arrive to CAHFS, they are prepared and extracted for analysis. Dr. Scott Stanley, with the lab’s Equine Analytical Chemistry Lab where the testing takes place, says that the lab is equipped to detect more than 1,800 drugs and new ones are always being added. While his lab primarily conducts residue testing for the horse racing industry, each summer it tests samples for half a dozen county fairs in California including the State Fair. At its busiest, the lab can receive up to 1,400 samples a week.

At the lab, suspicious samples are flagged and a second sample is tested for accuracy. According to Stanley, drugs of abuse like performance-enhancing drugs are not common or expected to be found at a fair livestock show.  He said that a therapeutic prescription drug that did not meet the correct withdrawal time period by accidental owner error is more commonly found.  If a sample is positive, the school works closely with the fair to ensure that the withdrawal period is met and the animal is free of antibiotics and other drugs before it enters the food chain.  The testing process is quick – collection to diagnosis takes place all within a day.

A Win/Win

From the contestant’s point of view, the livestock competition is an exciting way to be recognized for the time and work put into an animal raised healthfully. This year’s grand champion steer was sold for $18,000 at auction.

“The money helps the children, but more than anything, it is the prestige and honor of winning at the CA State Fair that’s important for them,” said Carlson.

 “Our goal is an equal and level playing field for everyone, and that animal products are safe and wholesome to consume when the fair is over,” he added.

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