Olympic ideals raise bar on supplements contamination

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Supplements, Dietary supplement, World anti-doping agency, Olympic games

Greece's Olympic weightlifting team is blaming contaminated
Chinese-made food supplements for some of its members being charged
with doping violations.

The 14-strong team was submitted to random World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) testing with 11 showing positive results for steroids and other banned substances, according to media reports. The Chinese manufacturer of the supplement, a Beijing-based exporter called Auspure Biotechnology Company Ltd, has accepted fault for the contamination believed to consist of an anabolic steroid, an opiate designed to alleviate athletes' dependence on the steroid, and an estrogen suppressor. The blame game ​ However Auspere's claim to responsibility is likely to hold little water with WADA. Individual athletes, sporting teams and national associations must take responsibility for all dietary inputs - including what in this case is being claimed is a faulty batch of supplements containing steroids and other banned ingredients. The ramifications for the Greek weightlifting team are severe - the Greek sports minister has said it is likely the whole weightlifting team will be barred from attending the Beijing Olympic Games in August as a result. But the case also highlights how careful supplements manufacturers and raw materials suppliers need to be when it comes to contaminants. Public image ​Aside from the Greek team's culpability in this incident, or that of the Chinese manufacturer, a side-effect of such events is the bad press that can attach itself to the industry as a result. Similar breaches in the US have had the industry fighting bad publicity fires there for years. Two major UK-based supplements manufacturers, Solgar UK and Seven Seas, told NutraIngredients.com that while it was possible such events could tarnish the supplements industry, they could only follow the letter of the national, European and international laws. "All our supplements are made to the highest standards and comply with regulations regarding contaminants including heavy metals and other ingredients,"​ said a Merck-owned Seven Seas spokesperson. She said no WADA-listed prohibitive substances were used in its products. ​Paul Chamberlain, technical director at Solgar UK, said his company sometimes fielded questions from "paranoid"​ athletes about supplements use. "I understand why athletes are so paranoid because the testing regime is so unforgiving, but we tell them they have nothing to worry about because what's on the label is what's inside." ​Chamberlain said he "didn't buy"​ the bad batch argument because a good supplement manufacturer will test and verify all batches and demand similar from their suppliers, a sentiment backed by David Adams, director of the UK-based Health Food Manufacturers Association (HFMA). "Specialist sports nutrition companies in the UK that supply products to elite athletes are extremely rigorous in their testing of raw materials and finished products and extremely careful in their choice of raw material suppliers,"​ he said. The sports world and supplements use ​ The Greek Weightlifting Federation could not be contacted for this story but the national body representing athletes in the UK, UK Athletics, warns against food supplement consumption in principle due to contamination risks. "The safest way to avoid a positive drugs test from a contaminated supplement is not to use supplements,"​ it advises. For those that did want to pursue supplements use, its National Anti-Doping Organisation had developed an educational resource to "help the sporting community better understand the risks associated with supplements use and to assist athletes in making informed choices about their dietary needs."​ It goes on to state: "There is an array of supplement products available on the market. Athletes have to distinguish between, on the one hand, the supplement products that can produce verifiable benefits not available from eating ordinary foods, and, on the other hand, the supplement products whose claimed benefits are unverified and speculative."The Greek situation ​ The Greek weightlifting coach Christos Iacovou was suspended in the wake of the doping charges, but denied any wrongdoing. While B samples are yet to be analysed, if they are returned positive the Greek weightlifting team may be evicted from the Olympic Games in Beijing in August. "Neither the athletes nor the team officials and pharmacologists or Mr. Iacovou, knew that the dietary supplements being taken contained any banned substances,"​ Iacovou's lawyer said in a statement. Athletes face a two-year ban if convicted.

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