Zero tolerance for drugs on race day
If the bill is passed, racetracks would be required to perform drug testing, and they would not be permitted to exempt any
medications, including bute and furosemide. "The emphasis would be no drugs on race day," Whitfield says.
If enacted, the law would be enforced through the FTC. It would require a state's racing commission to enter into a memorandum
of understanding with the FTC.
So with the new legislation, could drugs be administered to horses a few days before a race? Whitfield says, "The overall
objective is to get away from the rampant use of drugs being used today and basically have zero drug tolerance. But everyone
understands that horses, like professional athletes, become injured, and they have pain. And many times you've got to do something
to mitigate those issues, and you might have residual levels on race day."
An alternative view
"The proposed legislation, as it's currently drafted, has an additional layer of regulation on the racing industry in one
general area, the medication and the drug testing program," says Martin. "We have an alternative proposal, one we hope the
sponsors would embrace, which would not create another layer, but would reorganize the existing layer, in a multistate fashion,
as an Interstate Regulatory Compact."
According to Martin, current public policy allows only one drug—furosemide—to be administered on race day. "There is considerable
sentiment among my members to phase out the use of furosemide on race day," says Martin. "That's a proposal that has been
made by our chairman, Commissioner Koester of Ohio. In that sense, there are some parallels with some things that are already
underway. But there's an equine welfare debate that needs to take place before a change in public policy can be implemented.
And that's what we're hoping to have over the next several months, so we can reach an informed and sustainable conclusion
One of Martin's overriding concerns is the lack of exception. "A weakness of the proposed legislation is that it treats all
substances equally," says Martin. "We have decades of work that has gone into the classification document and the existing
regulatory policy—not only in the United States, but pretty much around the world—that has delineated the differences between
the various substances. Some substances would indicate a deliberate attempt to cheat, and others would indicate a mistake
in the shedrow. But the bill as it's currently proposed would kick somebody out of racing permanently for their third bute
Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine
with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.