Reducing the Risk of Disqualification from Naturally Occurring Prohibited Substances in Feed.

The highly successful NOPS scheme, set up in 2009 to help reduce the risk of naturally occurring prohibited substances in equine feed, is now a stand-alone code, run solely by the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA), it no longer exists as an appendix to the UFAS and FEMAS codes.

This move has seen the BETA NOPS Code continue to grow and develop its international presence. As part of what has been a substantial review, the code’s list of naturally occurring substances has been amended, with the removal of hordenine and the introduction of a list of herbal NOPS.

Companies wishing to be audited to the BETA NOPS Code will now have a wider range of pre-qualifying Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) -based schemes to choose from. Although the code comes into force in February, auditing to the new conditions will not take place until 1 June, whereby scheme members will feature the new BETA NOPS Code logo – rather than the previous version – on packaging

Feeds and supplements conforming to the new Codes will carry logos to reassure owners and trainers of the stringent quality management procedures that have been undertaken by manufacturers.

NOPS – what are they and where do they come from?

The definition of a prohibited substance is “any substance that can exert an effect on a horse” which is a broad, all encompassing definition. A naturally occurring prohibited substance (or NOPS) is one that is either naturally present within certain ingredients or that occurs as a result of inadvertent cross contamination during processing before arriving at the feed manufacturer’s facility. 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

Historically the principal risk has come from caffeine and theobromine, but more recently several incidences of morphine contamination of feed have occurred, coinciding with the cultivation of morphine poppies in UK.

The British Horseracing Authority’s Rules of Racing and International FEI rules for competition state a no threshold policy for naturally occurring substances that could affect performance, with the exception of theobromine.  Whilst the risks of such an occurrence are low, the consequences can be disastrous with loss of prize money, value, earnings, prestige, owners, trainers, riders, feed/supplement manufacturers and team placings.

BETA NOPS Assurance Schemes

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.

The Code has been endorsed by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and the National Trainers Association.  The British Horseracing Authority says of the Code: “By significantly reducing the risk of NOPS, the new Code provides important protection for those competing or racing under rules. The fact that most of the UK’s major feed manufacturers have already agreed to comply with the Code confirms its viability as a workable verification system.”

The endorsement of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) is currently being sought and it is hoped to work with the FEI in the future.

For companies interested in joining the BETA NOPS Scheme an application form and further information can be downloaded here:

Any company making claims relating to NOPS must be a member of the scheme as the scheme involves more than purely auditing to the NOPS code.  Having product made in a NOPS accredited manufacturing plant does NOT mean that the company marketing the product is NOPS accredited.

Participating Companies

The following companies have signed up to be audited under the new codes.

Best Practice on Yard

Beyond the NOPS code, best practice for responsible control of prohibited substances on a yard should include the below. A downloadable 'Guide to Avoiding Prohibited Substances' can be found here or a laminated version can be posted to you (email for your free copy).

There is also a more detailed leaflet which can be downloaded here or copies can be posted to you, email to request these.

Stable Management

  • Inform staff of all possible sources of contamination;
  • Forbid the consumption of food and drinks meant for human consumption in the stable;
  • Required stable staff to wash their hands thoroughly after and / or use disposable gloves whilst carrying out treatment on a horse or on themselves;
  • Require stable staff to declare any medications they are taking;
  • Empty and decontaminate the loose box, manger and water trough prior to the arrival of a new horse;
  • Empty and decontaminate the horse box after each journey;

Medication Management

  • Designate one person (who is well-informed of the risks of contamination) to look after the horses’ healthcare needs and to administer treatment(s);
  • Make it very clear which horse the vet should treat;
  • For each horse, have a log book available which details all treatment(s) currently being carried out as well as the prescribed dosages.
  • Keep prescriptions for the statutory period (namely, 5 years);
  • Be aware of medication ‘withdrawal periods’ before racing or competing;
  • Keep medication in a first-aid cupboard or box which is locked at all times;
  • If the manger or feed bucket is used to administer medication, clean thoroughly after use.

Feed Management

  • Choose companies accredited to the BETA / UFAS NOPS Code;
  • Keep the labels or delivery notes which state the batch numbers of the feed delivered,  suppliers being under obligation to keep samples of the batches;
  • If possible, keep samples of the feed upon delivery and keep for two months after the feed has been consumed in case of any future investigations;
  • Close the feed store when not in use;
  • Never place the first aid box, material(s), equipment or grooming kit in the feed store;
  • Designate one person (who is well-informed of the different contaminations risks)to prepare and distribute the feed rations;

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