Planning a vacation this year in Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos or maybe Mazatlan?

While the sun, sand and surf are bound to be spectacular, there’s an item on the menu that could end up ruining the good times.

And it’s not the water.

It’s the beef.

As the last few weeks of the off-season unfold, the National Football league is warning all players about eating meat south of the border—and in China, as well, although it’s doubtful too many of the league’s multi-millionaires are sunning themselves in sunny South China right about now.

According to the Associated Press, the NFL and the NFL Players Association jointly issued a memo cautioning players that “some meat produced by Mexico and China” could end with the player testing a positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Okay first of all, it is “interesting” that the NFL is acting all uptight about PEDs. Of all the sports Americans love, football is the only one that seems to be immune to backlash from fans concerning players caught using illegal substances.

In baseball, a slew of superstars — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa — are accused of using PEDs, and the nation’s sportswriters unite in stonewalling their election to the Baseball Hall of Fame. No way, no how, never, ever!

Meanwhile, the NFL routinely suspends dozens and dozens of players caught testing positive for banned substances, and the only question the media or the fans ever ask is: So, how soon can they be reinstated?

In the past 30 years, basically since the league instituted its first drug policy, the NFL has suspended 336 players for illegal drug use. Not allegations of such usage, mind you, but as a result of confirmed, positive tests for various banned substances.

Did you know that? Do you care?

If you’re any kind of a football fan, the answer to both questions is: No . . . not really.

A misunderstood backstory

But the people involved in animal agriculture need to care about this story — not because some football players might miss a couple games when the 2016 NFL season gets underway, but because, yet again, an entire meat category is being tainted by allegations arising from production practices in foreign countries that obviously don’t enforce the regulate their industries anywhere near as rigorously as the United States.

The substance at issue here is clenbuterol, a drug that is outlawed by the NFL and numerous other sports governing bodies. Clenbuterol is also banned by the FDA for use in food animals meant for human consumption, but of course, that only applies to American cattle producers.

Here’s the official NFL statement:

“There is some evidence that some meat produced in China and Mexico may be contaminated with clenbuterol, an anabolic agent which is banned by the NFL Policy on Performance Enhancing Substances. Consuming large quantities of meat while visiting those countries may result in a positive test for clenbuterol in violation of the Policy.”

And you do not want to violate The Policy.

Bad things happen to players who do.

So why is clenbuterol considered so ubiquitous that the NFL has to warn its players off of eating beef while vacationing in Mexico? Because it’s a powerful drug, although one that is misunderstood as a “muscle builder” by many amateur bodybuilders and athletes alike.

How does it work? Let’s go straight to the source:, which unabashedly is promoted as “The World’s Most Visited Anabolic Website.” Here’s the “inside story” on clenbuterol:

“Beyond treating breathing disorders, clenbuterol is commonly used as a thermogenic . . . more used in fat loss plans than anywhere else. Clenbuterol does not actively burn fat by attacking fat cells, but rather stimulates the metabolism by increasing the body’s temperature. It is a very common fat-burning tool used by many anabolic steroid users [and] a long standing favorite among competitive bodybuilders.

“Clenbuterol has also been noted for having a strong anabolic effect; however, things are not quite like they appear. There is a problem with this type of use; it doesn’t work.”

So in case you were loading up on clenbuterol to acquire that buffed-out, beach-body look prior to your summertime trip to some Mexican resort, as they say in New York, fuhgedaboudit.

Despite its inactivity for people who want to resemble The Rock when they check themselves out in the mirror, there’s an irony here: Clenbuterol promotes anabolic activity, ie, muscle gain — but only in animals.

As the experts at phrased it, “It has generally been proven useless in this regard as it pertains to human beings.”

That doesn’t stop the NFL from listing the drug on its schedule of banned substances.

And it certainly won’t stop the unscrupulous producers outside the USA from “treating” their livestock with clenbuterol.

Too bad The Policy doesn’t apply to everyone in animal ag.  

Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator