Following on from last week’s blog about prohibited substances, let’s take a more detailed look at Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances or NOPS. NOPS is a term used by BETA to describe a list of substances prohibited in competing horses, which are the most likely to accidentally occur in horse feeds and supplements.

BETA explains that the main NOPS and their sources are:

  • Caffeine (cacao)
  • Theobromine  (cacao)
  • Theophylline (tea)
  • Morphine (opium poppy, Papaver somniferum)
  • Hyoscine (nightshade, Datura)
  • Hordenine (germinating barley)
  • Atropine (nightshade – Atropa belladonna)
  • Nicotine (tobacco)
  • Lupanine
  • Bufotenine

Caffeine, theobromine and morphine contamination are probably the highest risk, with morphine contamination (from poppy seeds) being in the news recently. NOPS can appear in feed or supplements due to contamination with unwanted natural material during growing, storage, or transportation. Both the FEI and the BHA have a no threshold policy for substances that could affect performance during competition, with the exception of theobromine.

Opium poppies are a potential contaminant of horse feed ingredients.
Opium poppies are a potential contaminant of horse feed ingredients.

BETA have two schemes to reduce the risk of NOPS in horse feeds and supplements, which are based on quality control, risk assessment, and analytical testing. These are the UFAS NOPS Code for compound manufacturers and FEMAS NOPS Code for raw material and straights suppliers. BETA explains that these schemes are in place to ‘reassure buyers of the stringent quality management procedures taken by manufacturers’. In order to sign up to the voluntary scheme, manufacturers must demonstrate strict and detailed good practice including quality control and thorough risk assessment.

As stated on the BETA website,

‘The BETA Codes require manufacturers to evaluate the risk of a NOPS contamination during every step of the sourcing, storage, transport and manufacturing processes for their each product, and design their quality management systems in line with the risks identified. Suppliers of raw materials will be regularly audited and staff will also undergo rigorous training to ensure strict adherence to the Code.’ Read The UFAS BETA NOPS Code in full here.

Claire Williams, BETA Executive Director & Secretary, explains that there can never be a guarantee of products being free of NOPS, due to the natural ingredients used in horse feeds and supplements. It’s the very nature of NOPS that they tend to occur in pockets, rather than throughout a batch of product. Testing products can never be a guarantee and that is why the NOPS Code is set up as a way to reduce the risk from the ingredient source right to the end product.

Horse feed is made from natural ingredients, so complete freedom from unwanted materials is impossible.

Recently, two feed companies have discovered morphine in their feeds or ingredients, believed to come from contamination with morphine poppy seeds. Both the companies have all the recommended processes in place and are independently audited under the UFAS NOPS scheme, but unfortunately were let down by a supplier. The NOPS scheme allowed efficient action to be taken once a problem had been identified.

Besides the NOPS Code, BETA publish advice about best practice on the yard, to reduce the risk of a positive test in a competing horse – available to download here.

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About Clare MacLeod

Clare MacLeod MSc RNutr is one of the UK’s few registered independent equine nutritionists who also has expertise in health and fitness. She advises private and commercial clients in all sectors of the horse world and is a hands-on horse owner herself. Clare is passionate about correct nutrition as a foundation for good health, without which peak fitness is not possible. She states “Good nutrition isn’t everything, but there’s nothing without it”.