Saturday, March 29, 2008

Outsourcing Your Very Life

What's this woman doing? Whatever it is, she's doing it in a really nasty, ill-lit and unhygenic looking spot.

You can thank the New York Times for that photo. It shows a Chinese woman processing pig intestines, the mucus membranes from which are used to make the blood thinner Heparin. Hmmm, is squalor what you think of when pharmaceuticals come to mind?

"After many near misses and warning signs, the heparin scare has eliminated any doubt that, here and abroad, regulatory agencies overseeing the safety of medicine are overwhelmed in a global economy where supply chains are long and opaque, and often involve many manufacturers.

“In the 1990s governments were all about trying to maximize the volume of international trade,” said Moisés Naím, editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine and author of “Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy.” “I’m all for that, but I believe this decade is going to be about maximizing the quality of that trade, not quantity.”

Mr. Naím said the heparin scare is already having a “huge” impact, fueling worldwide anxiety over imported medicine and a growing demand for consumer protection.

The way heparin is made and distributed illustrates the challenges. The drug’s raw material comes from mucous membranes in the intestines of slaughtered pigs. Those membranes are mixed together and cooked, a process that in China often takes place in unregulated family workshops.
It is then transported to middlemen, called consolidators, who direct the product to plants in China that manufacture heparin’s active ingredient for shipment to either another trader or the finished dose manufacturer. In the United States, the tainted ingredients ended up at Baxter International, which later had to recall the blood thinner.

Since the outbreak in the United States, Japan and several countries in Europe have recalled certain heparin products made with Chinese ingredients. In some instances, European traders buy and sell the heparin to companies in other countries, extending the supply chain even more.

Anti-counterfeiting experts say that the longer the chain, the greater the opportunity for counterfeiters to adulterate the product. In fact, F.D.A. investigators have yet to figure out where in the multistage manufacturing process the chemical that mimics heparin was added."

First it was lethal pet food, then toxic toothpaste, lead painted toys, now it's blood thinners. C'mon people, something has to give. We either deal with this properly - now - or, I swear, we will lose control of this problem.

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