Morphine and Wild Poppy Contamination of Horse Feed

Updated: 1 August 2022
Issued: March 2015


Poppy seeds are sometimes detected as contaminants in horse feed. Wild poppies contain traces of codeine and morphine. They can contaminate fodder and cereal crops as well as manufactured feeds. Ingestion of poppies through these sources can lead to the detection of morphine in horses sampled at races, official trials or jump outs.

The wild poppy, ( also known as small-flowered opium poppy or small opium poppy, botanical name Papaver somniferum ssp. setigerum,) is widely distributed from South Queensland to South Australia.1 The growing plant has a pale purple flower and the dried flower pods (seed capsules) may appear in fodder and cereal crops and to facilitate their identification. These seed capsules contain sufficient codeine and morphine in 10 grams of capsules when ingested to produce urine positive to morphine. Only morphine would usually be detected in the urine because the codeine ingested is metabolized to morphine in the horse’s system.

The dry pods contain many small black seeds (poppy seeds) and these do not contain codeine or morphine. However, their presence in the bottom of feed bins may be an indication of the presence of seed capsules in a particular batch of feed.

The problems presented by poppy contamination of horse feed can be solved by trainers, stablehands and feed merchants being able to identify the culprit seed capsules.

If you identify poppy contamination of horse feed, please submit one to two handfuls of the suspect sample in a labeled plastic ziplock bag to the Racing Victoria Limited Stewards. They will arrange transfer of the sample to the Racing Analytical Services Limited Laboratory for analysis.

(Created with the assistance of Dr Alan Duffield, Former Chief Analyst, Australian Racing Forensic Laboratory).

If you have any questions, please contact Racing Victoria Veterinary Services on email:

1 See:,Papaver%20somniferum%20ssp.,1%20to%201.5%20m%20tall.