The use of banned substances in feeding livestock is so pervasive in China that athletes at the country's elite sports training centers are forbidden from eating meat.
The most common problem is use of beta agonists, commonly known in China as "lean meat powder." These substances promote formation of muscle instead of fat as the animal gains weight. Clenbuterol is the most common beta agonist, but ractopamine, salbutamol and others are also used to produce muscular "bodybuilder pigs." Beta agonists have been banned in China since 2000 and there was a prominent scandal in 2011 when their extensive use was revealed by a television report. Hormones and other substances are also a concern.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics athletes were not permitted to eat outside the Olympic village because of this concern. About 10 closely guarded secret farms were operated to provide pork for the athletes.
In 2010, a member of China's judo team was banned for two years for failing drug tests. The team blamed it on "lean meat powder" consumed in pork. The judo team started its own pig farm to supply the athletes.
In December 2013, a widely-posted article reported that many of China's elite training centers have forbidden their athletes to eat pork and other meat because they might fail doping tests at international competitions. There are also concerns that routine ingestion of clenbuterol could also cause cardiac damage to athletes.
The director of the aquatic sports training center told media the athletes had stopped eating meat for 40 days, and "all the dumplings eaten during the spring festival were vegetarian."
A female rowing champion in Guangzhou revealed on a microblog, “Today the [sports] bureau notified us athletes are forbidden to eat pork. Even mutton and beef may not be eaten outside [the training center]. Only chicken and fish are allowed.”
A coach of the women's ping pong team once told the reporter, “Athletes can’t eat meat common people can eat; we eat meat tested in Beijing and shipped specially to Chengdu.”
The national badminton team coach said the team members may only eat meat specially supplied to the team. They may not eat meat "in society."
Athletic officials are also concerned because a "biological passport" is being adopted as an anti-doping measure. This entails monitoring athletes' bodies for evidence of banned substances in place of testing.
National Sports Bureau officials made several visits to meat suppliers, but they have not been encouraged. They think very few meat suppliers can reach their standards. The officials are anxious about this problem.
So-called "lean meat powder" has been a point of conflict between China and the United States. Like China, the U.S. bans clenbuterol, but the U.S. allows ractopamine another beta agonist developed as a safe alternative to clenbuterol. Ractopamine was designed to flush out of the animal's body to prevent harmful residues at slaughter. China bans all beta agonists, ignoring test results showing that concentrations of ractopamine at slaughter are within China's tolerances.
In June 2013, China's Minister of Commerce addressed accusations that China's market was closed to American pork by pointing out that China's market is only closed to "lean meat powder." He said pork from other countries must meet China's quality and safety standards and regulations.
Athletes in the United States can eat anywhere and don't have to worry about eating meat that will cause them to fail doping tests or have heart attacks. Yet the meat American athletes eat is banned in China while clenbuterol is apparently so prevalent in China's meat that Chinese athletes cannot eat anywhere in their country without being at risk of ingesting banned substances in their meat.
At the time of the Olympics, some Chinese citizens asked why the common people couldn't eat safe pork like athletes. Chinese common people are consigned to consuming tainted local food with real risks while safe food from other countries is banned from their market over an infinitesimal risk.