Sports Law • Risk Management

November 13, 2010: A Poppy Seed Bagel May Lead to a Positive Doping Test

I just read the headline, “Woman: Poppy Seeds, Not Drugs, Led to Losing Child”. The article went on to explain that the ACLU has filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of a couple whose baby was taken away from them, because the mother had tested positive for opiates in a urine test after eating a poppy-seed bagel. If it turns out that the facts are as the mother claims, it is certainly a tragic outcome. This is not the first time I’ve heard of drug test results being influenced by food intake of poppy-seeds. The negative ramification of poppy seed intake is significant for athletes. Apparently, testing has determined that “high-performance athletes could possibly test positive in doping control after consumption of products containing poppy seeds.” Poppy seeds are extracted from the opium poppy, which is also the source of opiates, including morphine, codeine, thebaine, noscapine, and papaverine. In South America, chefs commonly decorate dishes with poppy seeds. In one incident in 2007, a team physiologist noticed that there were poppy seeds in the Brazilian football team’s pre-game dinner of chicken. The meal was sent back to the kitchen so that the entire team avoided a positive doping test. Unfortunately, risk management should be applied to the kitchen as well.

Athletes, coaches, and managers should pay careful attention to what the athlete that faces drug testing ingests. A careless mistake about an ingredient in a pre-competition meal could prove disastrous. Careful meal planning is the best way to protect against inadvertent consumption of banned substances. Athletes should be educated about what foods that they should avoid. Food preparers should be provided with careful instruction as to what ingredients cannot be included in athlete’s meals. Careful monitoring should take place in order to avoid any false accusations. It is certainly unfortunate that an innocent food such as poppy seeds must be avoided, but it is the necessary consequence of clean, safe and fair play in sport.