HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

FDA: Food and Drug Contamination

The New York Times on Sunday ran an article discussing how some imported drugs contain a poison syrup, diethlene glyclol (normally found in antifreeze) rather than glycerin, a more expensive syrup, which is safe to use in a variety of pharmeutical products. 

Over the years, the poison has been loaded into all varieties of medicine — cough syrup, fever medication, injectable drugs — a result of counterfeiters who profit by substituting the sweet-tasting solvent for a safe, more expensive syrup, usually glycerin, commonly used in drugs, food, toothpaste and other products.

Toxic syrup has figured in at least eight mass poisonings around the world in the past two decades. Researchers estimate that thousands have died. In many cases, the precise origin of the poison has never been determined. But records and interviews show that in three of the last four cases it was made in China, a major source of counterfeit drugs. . . . .

Last week, the United States Food and Drug Administration warned drug makers and suppliers in the United States “to be especially vigilant” in watching for diethylene glycol. The warning did not specifically mention China, and it said there was “no reason to believe” that glycerin in this country was tainted. Even so, the agency asked that all glycerin shipments be tested for diethylene glycol, and said it was “exploring how supplies of glycerin become contaminated.”

China is already being accused by United States authorities of exporting wheat gluten containing an industrial chemical, melamine, that ended up in pet food and livestock feed. The F.D.A. recently banned imports of Chinese-made wheat gluten after it was linked to pet deaths in the United States.

Beyond Panama and China, toxic syrup has caused mass poisonings in Haiti, Bangladesh, Argentina, Nigeria and twice in India.

Today, the Diane Rehm show explores further some of the FDA's recent lapses in safety - particularly with regard to the melamine found in chickens as well as other parts of the U.S. food supply.  Perhaps we need to re-consider our priorities when spending money on protecting the public - the FDA should not be relying on industry standards to prevent these terrible events.

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