By Gene Cherry
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - Major League Baseball is planning to begin blood testing of minor league players for the banned substance human growth hormone (HGH) later this year, anti-doping sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Major League Baseball (MLB) said it was consulting experts on the issue "concerning immediate steps for our minor league drug program" but a source familiar with the plans said he understood the tests would definitely be implemented.
"The commissioner remains committed to the position that we must act aggressively to deal with the issue of HGH," MLB said in a statement adding that it was also considering "the next steps for our major league drug program."
The National Football League (NFL) also has proposed blood testing its players for HGH, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
"Our position is that HGH blood-testing has advanced to the point where we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the newspaper.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), who must consent to the testing, said in a statement to Reuters it looked forward to discussing the proposal at its next meeting with the league.
Baseball's decision follows this week's announcement that a British rugby league player had been suspended for testing positive for HGH, which athletes use to boost their performance.
Although the blood test has been used at the Olympic Games and elsewhere since 2004, the British announcement marked the first positive test for HGH in any sport from a blood sample.
"We are well aware of the important news with respect to the HGH blood test in England," MLB said in its statement.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig could implement blood tests of minor leaguers without the consent of the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) because most are not members of the union.
Selig previously has said he would support a proven HGH test.
"When a valid, commercially available and practical test for HGH becomes reality, regardless of whether the test is based on blood or urine, baseball will support the utilization of that test," he said at a 2008 U.S. Congressional hearing.
But the MLBPA said it had concerns about blood testing.
"Inherent in blood testing of athletes are concerns of health, safety, fairness and competition not associated with urine testing," MLBPA said in a statement to Reuters.
The union said while it agreed HGH use was not tolerated in baseball, the British case warrants investigation and that it had conferred with its experts and the commissioner's office.
"A report of a single uncontested positive does not scientifically validate a drug test," MLBPA's statement added.
"As press reports have suggested, there remains substantial debate in the testing community about the scientific validity of blood testing for HGH."
The NFLPA also expressed concern about blood testing for HGH.
"We have and will continue to work with the NFL to build a system that is fair, reliable and maintains the integrity of our game and the health and safety of our players," the union said in their statement.
"We believe in, and collectively bargained for, a system that supports the testing of all banned substances."
(Editing by Ken Ferris and Greg Stutchbury)