User:Sean Heron/21 polo ponies die at US Open

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{{stale}} {{tasks|mos|re-review}} Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On April 19, 2009, 21 horses fell ill at Palm Beach International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida just prior to a game of the 2009 US Open Polo Championship. By the following day, all 21 were dead. The proximate cause of death was reported to be acute pulmonary edema. All 21 horses were part of Lechuza Caracas polo team and the team captain said all of them had been injected with Biodyl, a vitamin and mineral supplement for animals that is manufactured in France. Five other team horses, not injected, were not affected.

Initially the focus of the US media was on the possibility that the horses died due to the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport, while the focus of the Argentine media was on the possibility of sabotage of a powerful sports team. However, it soon emerged that the horses may have died due to an error by a Florida pharmacy.


On April 21, preliminary necroscopies of the Lechuza Caracas polo team's horses were completed at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville (15 horses) and a state-run animal laboratory in Kissimmee (6 horses). The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are continuing law enforcement investigations into the deaths, but said they had no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The necroscopies confirmed the presence of pulmonary edema and found also bleeding of the lungs.

Because Biodyl is a commonly used supplement, adulteration of the supplement was suspected. In the United States the supplement is not FDA-approved, so there were many questions about how it was obtained by the team, which had been training and competing in the US since December 2008. On April 23, the Miami Herald reported a Florida pharmacy disclosed that in compounding a medication for the team horses, the pharmacy had made a measurement error.

An Argentine newspaper reported that at about the same time three similar deaths following the use of Biodyl had occurred in Uruguay, involving horses in training for the Panamericano de Endurance. This report has not been confirmed.

International polo teams typically consist of 3 professional players and a wealthy team sponsor. Lechuza Caracas's sponsor is Venezuelan banking multi-millionaire Víctor Vargas, but most of its players are from Argentina.

Policy issues[edit]

Use of non-approved drugs[edit]

The statement by the team captain that the horses had been given Biodyl led to media and public outcry about use of a drug (Biodyl) not approved by the FDA. This use was widely cited as illegal and the drug was even described as "FDA banned". In fact, the drug is not FDA-approved and this is because the French manufacturer has not applied for FDA approval.

Compounding of veterinary drugs[edit]

The statement by the compounding pharmacy that it prepared a solution to substitute for Biodyl led to a second media outcry questioning the safety and legality of compounding. Relevant to this is an FDA guidance concerning the compounding of drugs for use in animals.[1]