California Panel Calls for Ban on Use of Venom in Horses

California has taken the first step to ban the backstretch use of snake venom, which officials believe can be used as a nerve- or joint-numbing agent in sore or injured horses.

If approved by California Horse Racing Board, the action by its medication committee April 1 would add snake and snail venom to the list of prohibited substances banned at any facility under the CHRB's authority.

"We know of no known veterinarian uses for snake venom in racing," Dr. Roy Jensen, the CHRB's equine medical director, told commissioners John Harris and William Bianco at the University of Califorina-Davis Ken Maddy Laboratory.

The poison can be injected into an afflicted joint or nerve to deaden pain so a horse could compete with an injury, Jensen said. "You can kill the horse with this venom," he said.

There is no evidence snake or snail poison is in use in California, Jensen said. Other substances on the CHRB prohibited vet list are erythropoeitin and the closely related darbepoeitin, which are used to increase the production of red blood cells.

As with EPO, no recognized analytical method for detection of the poison's use is available, Jensen said. Adding it to the banned substance list would give investigators a method of fighting its presence, he said.

Harris said detection could be a problem.

"I can't see a veterinarian having a bottle labeled 'snake venom' (in his possession)," Harris said. He agreed with Jensen, though, that the potential for misuse warranted action.

The additions to the CHRB's prohibited practices rule require a 45-day public comment period before the full board can act.