ABritish sports drug testing laboratory is in danger of losing its international testing accreditation because it is being used by supplements companies who then advertise their products as being "Wada-tested".

Richard Caborn, the former sports minister, and UK Sport have encouraged the publicly-funded laboratory to carry out commercial work in what one scientist has described as "a clear conflict of interest".

The lab, run by a company called HFL, analyses nutritional supplements for "in excess of 40" commercial manufacturers and suppliers, to check that their products do not contain drugs on the sporting banned list. HFL have doubled their client list for this sort of work since they gained accreditation for drug testing from Wada, the World Anti-Doping Agency, in 2002.

Yet Wada is opposed to its accredited laboratories conducting this sort of work. The director of one testing lab in Europe described the practice as being "seriously frowned upon" in the scientific community. "It is gamekeepers working with the poachers," said another.

But as a by-product of public support and encouragement for HFL's business from UK Sport and Caborn, nutritional supplement companies are now aggressively marketing their products as being "Wada-tested".

UK Sport distributes millions of pounds of Lottery cash, while also overseeing the country's drug testing programme. In 2006, HFL conducted nearly 20% of Britain's sports drug tests on behalf of UK Sport, worth around £250,000. Last year, UK Sport also staged a large seminar on sports nutrition at HFL's Newmarket base.

"If you are taking supplements, you are taking a risk," a UK Sport spokesman said. "But surveys show that athletes are still using supplements widely, and we think we need to do something to help make them safe."

Analytical work on food supplements by the Wada-accredited lab in Newmarket has seen one supplement company, fronted by Olympic sprint relay gold medallist Darren Campbell, describe their products as "Gold-standard screening at Wada-accredited laboratory". They even publish online analysis certificates from HFL.

Another company, Maximuscle - who in the past have been heavily fined for mislabelling their products - now claim: "Maximuscle was the first company to have each and every batch of its products independently drug screened at the UK's leading Wada- approved testing lab - HFL."

One senior figure in doping control said: "The association these companies are trying to make with Wada and approval is clear. Yet Wada does not approve of these products at all."

Nutritional supplements are a lucrative business, with estimates putting the global industry in products such as Creatine, protein powders and others of more questionable efficacy as being worth $80 billion per year.

Eight years ago, there was a spate of 17 positive tests in Britain for the anabolic steroid nandrolone - with Scotland's Doug Walker the first to be banned.

Some of those who tested positive sought to blame "inadvertent contamination" of the supplements that they had been using. Research carried out on behalf of the International Olympic Committee found contamination in products from 16 companies, although no British sportsmen were able to bring forward evidence that contamination caused their positive test.

Advice to athletes from Wada and other Olympic scientists since has been that supplements ought not to be necessary for anyone eating a properly balanced diet. Those in the supplement industry dispute this.

In the case of Walker, the 1998 European 200 metres champion, his two-year ban, which included the Sydney Olympics, effectively ended his track career.

Better quality control of nutritional supplements could have helped to avoid cases such as Walker's. Under drug testing's convention of "strict liability", the sportsman is entirely responsible for what is discovered in their system at the time of a drug test.

Caborn, who stood down as minister for sport when Gordon Brown took over as prime minister, justifies his encouragement of HFL to undertake lucrative supplement analysis work as a means of providing support to sportsmen. "My view is that as long as athletes are using supplements, and they do, and as long as you have the principle of strict liability, which is fundamental to Wada's drug-testing stance, then you need to offer the athletes some support," he said.

"Athletes feel isolated because of the system of strict liability, and they need some reassurance that the supplements that they are using are safe. That takes us down the route of testing supplements."

This is the argument used by Pro Athlete Supplementation, a Wales-based firm who have HFL check their products. "Our target market is the professional sports world because of the extra steps we take to make sure our products are safe," said Jon Williams, who runs the company with Campbell. PAS sell supplements to the Wales rugby team as well half the clubs in the Premiership.

When asked about the issues raised by his company outsourcing their quality control work to HFL, Williams said: "I know there's a bit of a conflict there. But it is a Wada-accredited lab, and the fact that they are Wada-accredited is the reason we went to them. They offer a useful service that gives the athletes confidence."

He denied that PAS's marketing claims were deliberately misleading or over-stated, but admitted that "it is something that has been mentioned in the past and we may have to look at again".

David Hall, the chief executive of HFL, defended his company's work in this area. "I guess we don't see a contradiction at all," he said. "It was UK Sport who introduced us to the supplement companies and we feel that the Wada labs are best-placed to analyse supplements. We do not consider that we are in breach of Wada rules. We see it as a service to the athletes."

Through the testing of Lucozade-branded products, HFL are able to list GlaxoSmith-Kline, the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company, among their clients.

Some Lucozade Sport packaging has carried "tested at a Wada-accredited laboratory" on its labels. Hall says that GSK have told him they could not afford to develop their own laboratory to do the work that HFL does. Hall also says that his company's supplement analysis work represents only "a modest amount of our turnover".

He points to other Wada laboratories conducting similar screening. However, university-based laboratories in Cologne, Ghent and Seibersdorf, Austria, undertake such work on a non-commercial basis, and do so in separate facilities.

Hall maintains that HFL have clauses in their contracts with supplement companies that prohibit any abuse of the connection between Wada and their products. "We reserve the right to revoke the contract if any erroneous marketing claims are made," he said, adding that no action had been taken on materials in the public domain because his company were unaware of them.

Despite his support for HFL's commercial work, Caborn was clear that it should not take advantage of the laboratory's Wada accreditation: "These products are not Wada-approved. These supplement companies have no right to use that sort of endorsement."

Last night, Wada's communications director Elizabeth Hunter seemed to suggest that HFL may receive a written warning over their conduct. "Wada does not permit the use of its name and logo in the marketing of any products," she said. "There may be unscrupulous manufacturers that take advantage of their relationship with an accredited laboratory.

"If a laboratory deviates from this rule, then we send them written notification and reminder of their obligations."

Last week, Wada published the revised draft of their Code, which is expected to be adopted in November. The revision of laboratory ethics specifically prohibits supplement screening. "The laboratory shall not engage into analysing commercial material or preparations (eg dietary supplements) unless specifically requested by an Anti-Doping Organisation as part of a doping case investigation."

The revision could leave HFL with little option but to cease analysing nutritional supplements, or risk losing its cherished Wada-accredited status. testing times

Doug Walker limped away from athletics five years ago, unable to get his career back on track following a positive drug test many believed was the result of using nutritional supplements contaminated with the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

Following Walker's positive test late in 1998, a further 16 British sportsmen tested positive for the steroid, some with strong links to supplement companies.

These included Linford Christie, the former Olympic champion who opted to retire when his ban was announced, 400-metre runner Mark Richardson and his then training partner Marlon Devonish, now rated as Britain's top sprinter. In Richardson's case, he was permitted to continue competing, earning $100,000 the following season, until he was handed an abbreviated, six-month ban. Devonish was never suspended.

Christie was embroiled in two other positive drug tests, both linked to nutritional products. When he tested positive for pseudoephedrine at the 1988 Olympics, Christie escaped sanction after suggesting that drinking Ginseng tea may have been responsible.

In 1994, when sprinter Solomon Wariso failed a drug test, it transpired it was due to using an American nutritional product, Up Your Gas.

For Walker, his positive test came just months after his surprise 200m success at the 1998 European Championships. He was never able to cash in on that success; indeed, his legal costs to try to clear his name ruined his finances. Aged 33, he now works in golf course design.

I just wish I could have been treated more leniently, in light of all the doubts and debate about nandrolone that came to light after my test," he said. "I suppose it is one of the problems with being the first big case. Just bad timing."