Metrohm France: Champagne and Horse Pee
Tuesday morning, I found myself standing in a customer lab close to Paris, fighting at the same time with jet lag and the sting of ammonia in my nose provoked by the samples horse pee handled all around us. We were at the LCH, the laboratory belonging to the French National Horse Racing Federation FNCH.
The transition from the Americas trip to the Europe trip wasn’t exactly a smooth one. Because of the long flight from Brazil to Paris and the 5 hours of time difference I lost one day of the weekend that I needed desperately to recover from the flight, the jet lag, and the dramatic climate difference. Paris greeted me with grey skies, rain, and frosty temperatures—coming from Brazil, where we easily surpassed 30 °C most days, it was little consolation to me that I’d arrived on the first warmer day Paris had seen in a while (it was about 12 °C).
After arriving at the Metrohm France’s premises on Monday, I got to meet the office and the laboratory staff, as well as my Metrohm guide to France, Steven. By now, I get very confused about how to greet people—with a handshake, with one kiss as is customary in Latin America, with two kisses as the French do, or with three kisses as is common practice in Switzerland. Awkward moments are inevitable, but quickly forgotten after a nice champagne lunch (which, as my colleagues assured me, is not a daily thing at Metrohm France, but a special welcome for me).
Metrohm and Horse Racing
During my stay in France, our local colleagues wanted to show me especially how Metrohm instruments have made their way into French culture, and there are several laboratories to prove that. One of them is the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques, or LCH for short. The LCH is an IFHA (International Federation of Horseracing Authorities) certified laboratory and a reference laboratory for FEI (Fédération Equestre Internaionale).
While doping is a big issue at events like the Olympics or the Tour de France, you may be surprised that horses that participate in races have to undergo doping tests as well. Horse racing being a hugely popular sport in France, the LCH receives about 42’000 samples of urine and blood taken from racing horses to rule out doping. The majority of these samples come from racing courses across the country, with other samples coming from other countries such as Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and more. When you see the LCH facilities, you get an idea of what a big deal horse racing is in France: the lab is enormous and equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including robots to handle the large amount of samples. Metrohm instruments have been used at the LCH for several decades. In the picture you can see one of the setups used to automatically set the sample pH to specific values required for enzymatic digestion.
Credibility is the number one priority at the LCH. Thanks to an anonymous numbering system, none of the lab’s employees know the origin of the sample under scrutiny. A duplicate of each sample is conserved for a possible retesting: if portion A of a sample tests positive for doping, the LCH notifies the horse biology service of the FNCH who can trace the sample back to the horse and its owner using the number assigned to it. At the request of the horse’s trainer, the sample will be retested using the B portion of the sample, usually at a lab outside the country, using a different analysis technique.
Getting to Know Paris
The last night in Paris, before leaving for Lyon the next morning, I got a special tour of Paris with Metrohm France’s «Team 75», the team involved in the organization of all activities for Metrohm’s 75th anniversary. After dinner at a typical Parisian bistro, a type of restaurant that just recently came into fashion again after having been «the place where your grandfather would eat» for a while we had a city tour in the French car par excellence, a Citroën 2CV (or rather two of them—6 people plus a driver would have made for a rather cosy ride).
In Paris, you can’t drive 50 meters without passing a major landmark but my most important memory from our Paris tour is the exuberant atmosphere among the Team 75, away from the boss, imitating siren noises to turn our car into a police car with the little LED Eiffel Tour they got me as a souvenir.