Just like Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball, the dairy genetics industry has a drug problem.

You cannot go very far without reading something about the latest drug scandal involving a pro athlete.  This week it`s 13 major league baseball players headlined by Alex Rodriguez the league’s highest paid player.  Experts in sports doping believe that the problems in baseball — and cycling, track and field and other sports — remain widespread and that policing sports is proving to be nearly impossible.  With recent events at a few of the dairy cattle shows, has me asking whether the dairy industry also has a drug problem.

There are many similarities between the professional sports world and the dairy cattle show scene.  (Read more:  Is the Show Ring the Center of the Dairy World? and Dairy Cattle Showing: For Ego or Profit?) However, for me this is not just a show ring issue.  The problem of people wanting to test the limits and sometimes go over the line is not a new one to the dairy industry.  There have been breeders whose ethics have had a greater effect on the industry than that of those in the show ring.  (Read more:  Has Genomics Knocked out the Hot House Herds?  And The Hot House Effect on Sire Sampling).  While a cow that wins  the show may catch the attention of many breeders, it’s the 2yr year old who is getting illegal drugs (such as rBST in Canada) to help inflate their production, or their pictures enhanced or udders juiced for picture day that causes a bigger issue for the industry (Read more: No Cow Is Perfect – Not Even in Pictures and Introducing the Dairy Marketing Code of Conduct).

Why do we test in the first place?

According to major league baseball, the point of the testing is to keep the sports-entertainment industry functioning, to maintain its loyal public and to stay in business.  For these very same reasons, wouldn`t it be a good idea to set up some form of rules around the use of performance enhancing drugs in the dairy industry?

Yes I am well aware that there is the use of ultrasounds at the Royal and World Dairy Expo.  However, they can only catch so much and it means that some exhibitors just switch to a different drug of choice.  For some that means the use of dextrose to get that cow alert and veins popping while she is in the show ring.  Though many have admitted that dextrose is not that effective, it still could be viewed as a performance-enhancing drug.  The big issue is that, whenever there is testing, there will always be those who are one-step ahead of the tests.

However, as I said earlier, the bigger issue is not with the show ring but rather with the fact that some of the genetic index stars are getting that extra edge on classification day, or on the day they are pictured or they are even getting the day-to-day production boost they need in order to get ahead of the rest.  These animals have absolutely no testing to prove whether they are simply living up to their genetic potential or why they are far exceeding it.

In talking with many average producers, and especially in talking with many commercial producers – both groups who represent the largest purchasers of semen, I have heard a consistent theme, about how they have lost trust in the seed stock industry, especially certain high index cattle.  They feel that generation after generation have shown that they are unable to cut it in the working day-to-day environments.

Do we really want to clean it up?

The dairy industry is guilty of ignoring the drug issue, just like the NFL. Just because you don’t have positive tests, does not mean there is not an issue.

Even with all the talk about what needs to change, there has been very little done over the years to actually bring about change.  It’s kind of like the way the NFL does not want to admit it has an issue with drugs.  Do you really believe a 300-pound lineman can run 40 yards in 4.4 seconds?  The National Football League generates millions and millions in revenue, clobbers everything in the television ratings and is a national obsession.  The NFL brags about its drug-testing program and, while they catch a few players from time to time, the inference is that the majority of the players are clean.  Yep, that’s probably true.  Those offensive linemen are bulking up to 335 pounds on good diet and weight lifting.  Sure they are.  Instead of dealing with the issue, they would rather look the other way.

The same is true in the dairy genetics marketplace.  Instead of addressing this issue, many in the industry would rather sweep it under the carpet and not discuss it.  Here at The Bullvine we have written many articles on marketing ethics (Read more:  Dairy Cattle Marketing Ethics – Do they exist?  and Business Ethics and Marketing Dairy Cattle Genetics), and for the most part the A.I. companies, those who make the most money from these practices, have decided to bury their heads in the sand, not wanting to buck the system.  That is because they are the ones making the most money from this and yet not the ones actually committing the crime.  Similar to how the owners of the baseball, hockey, soccer, and football teams are trying to pin the issue of drugs in professional sports solely on the athletes.  If they really wanted to clean up the game, they could do so, since they are the ones controlling the most important part in this equation.  The money.

Are we doing enough?

One of the big knocks on sports like Hockey and Football is that you never hear about any players actually being caught for the use of illegal drugs.  The same is true for the show ring.  You never hear about a cow failing a test, as we recently did in the beef industry (Read more: Stampede steer champion disqualified after drug test).  While some would tell you that is because there are none, those in the ring and the barns know that is not the case.  At least the shows are doing something.  What are the photography and seed stock industries doing?

The Bullvine Bottom Line

While certainly everyone loves to talk about what show cows are fixed and which ones are not, the bigger issue for me is that of the seed stock industry.  Yes genomics has helped eliminate some of the hothouse cattle but it certainly has not changed the way many of these top cattle are cared for (Read more: Preferential Treatment – The Bull Proof Killer) and how they are marketed.  So the answer to the drug question boils down to this. Until changes are made in these areas the dairy genetics industry will continue to have a problem!!!

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