May 06, 2007
Adulterated And Counterfeit Chinese Ingredients Sicken And Kill Thousands
A quick math question: If the FDA inspects less than 2% of all imported food and food ingredients (and those are their numbers, not mine), what are the odds that a given Chinese shipment marked Food Grade Glycerin--one that actually held container after container of the cheap, sweet, and lethally poisonous antifreeze diethylene glycol--would be intercepted before its consignors distributed it far and wide, where it would be poured into cough syrups and toothpaste, then shipped to consumers who, along with their children, would be poisoned and killed?
Now consider this: the above scenario has happened, and is still happening, in other countries. I imagine you are quite rightly worried. The FDA would appear to be getting there, too--on March 21, 2007, the agency quietly issued an Import Alert, calling for increased surveillance--not an outright ban or full-scale, mandatory inspections--of glycerin imports. Then, on May 4th, the FDA sent out an advisory to pharmaceutical manufacturers, drug repackers, and other health professionals:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning pharmaceutical manufacturers, suppliers, drug repackers, and health professionals who compound medications to be especially vigilant in assuring that glycerin, a sweetener commonly used worldwide in liquid over-the-counter and prescription drug products, is not contaminated with diethylene glycol (DEG). DEG is a known poison used in antifreeze and as a solvent. Today, the agency is issuing guidance to industry recommending methods of testing glycerin and other controls to identify any contamination with DEG before use in the manufacture or preparation of pharmaceutical products.
At the present time, FDA has no reason to believe that the U.S. supply of glycerin is contaminated with DEG, though the agency is cognizant of reports from other countries over the past several years in which DEG-contaminated glycerin has caused human deaths. FDA is emphasizing the importance of testing glycerin for DEG due to the serious nature of this potentially fatal problem in combination with the global nature of the pharmaceutical supply chain and problems that continue to occur with this kind of contamination in some parts of the global supply of glycerin.
And appearing in today's New York Times is this disturbing, must-read article:
Many of them are children, poisoned at the hands of their unsuspecting parents.
The syrupy poison, diethylene glycol, is an indispensable part of the modern world, an industrial solvent and prime ingredient in some antifreeze.
It is also a killer. And the deaths, if not intentional, are often no accident.
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.
Panama is the most recent victim. Last year, government officials there unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into 260,000 bottles of cold medicine — with devastating results. Families have reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. With the onset of the rainy season, investigators are racing to exhume as many potential victims as possible before bodies decompose even more.
Panama’s death toll leads directly to Chinese companies that made and exported the poison as 99.5 percent pure glycerin.
Forty-six barrels of the toxic syrup arrived via a poison pipeline stretching halfway around the world. Through shipping records and interviews with government officials, The New York Times traced this pipeline from the Panamanian port of Colón, back through trading companies in Barcelona, Spain, and Beijing, to its beginning near the Yangtze Delta in a place local people call “chemical country.”
The counterfeit glycerin passed through three trading companies on three continents, yet not one of them tested the syrup to confirm what was on the label. Along the way, a certificate falsely attesting to the purity of the shipment was repeatedly altered, eliminating the name of the manufacturer and previous owner. As a result, traders bought the syrup without knowing where it came from, or who made it. With this information, the traders might have discovered — as The Times did — that the manufacturer was not certified to make pharmaceutical ingredients.
An examination of the two poisoning cases last year — in Panama and earlier in China — shows how China’s safety regulations have lagged behind its growing role as low-cost supplier to the world. It also demonstrates how a poorly policed chain of traders in country after country allows counterfeit medicine to contaminate the global market.
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.”
It is a long and harrowing piece, one I can't recommend enough.
And in a related story, news on the adulterated food front keeps getting worse. Last week, the FDA began inspecting American food-processing facilities--as in, manufacturers of food meant for humans--and Chinese authorities detained one manager working at Xuzhou Anying, exporters of the tainted wheat gluten that U.S. company ChemNutra resold to Menu Foods and other manufacturers.
Surely I'm not alone in wondering exactly how big the Big Picture really is? Here we are, witnessing the dark and deadly effects wrought by a disturbing new strain of unbound, unchecked capitalism, one that takes the form of opportunistic criminals driving overseas containers through the gaping holes in our regulatory system. Yet only a handful of bloggers--Goldy (who wonders if the fake glycerin may have caused all the renal failure in American cats and dogs), as well as the folks at Ichmo and Pet Connection, for example--and newspaper writers seem to be following through with the developments, observing the connections, pointing out the deeply worrisome implications.
I was particularly struck by this quote in the above-linked Times article:
In Bangladesh, investigators found poison in seven brands of fever medication in 1992, but only after countless children died. A Massachusetts laboratory detected the contamination after Dr. Michael L. Bennish, a pediatrician who works in developing countries, smuggled samples of the tainted syrup out of the country in a suitcase. Dr. Bennish, who investigated the Bangladesh epidemic and helped write a 1995 article about it for BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal, said that given the amount of medication distributed, deaths “must be in the thousands or tens of thousands.”
In the thousands or tens of thousands. Terrorism attacked us on our own soil in 2001, but human greed would appear to be going one step further, attacking us within our own bodies. Poisoning our food and our medicine; poisoning adults and children and animals--around the world, and here at home. Poisoning us.
Also at Shakesville.
March 17, 2007
Addressing The Climate Crisis: US Not Leading Or Even Following
The richest and most developed nations in the world are forging ahead with plans to cut carbon emissions significantly by the year 2020. But the United States--arguably the richest and most developed of all, and inarguably the world's largest per-capita consumer of natural resources and contributor to carbon emissions--is still not on board. Worse, developing nations are citing America's poor example of stubborn isolationism as the reason for their own hesitation or outright refusal to participate and enact proactive climate-protection policies (bolds mine):
Environment ministers of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, and officials from leading developing countries, were meeting to prepare for a June G8 summit at which climate change will be a major topic.
"On two issues, the United States were the only ones who spoke against consensus,'' German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters at the end of the two-day meeting, which he chaired on behalf of Germany's G8 presidency.
Gabriel said the U.S. remained opposed to a global carbon emissions trading scheme like the one used in the
European Union and rejected the idea that industrialized nations should help achieve a "balance of interests'' between developing countries' need for economic growth and environmental protection.
The Bush administration, which for years questioned the reliability of scientific findings showing man-made pollution was responsible for the planet's warming, has shifted its stance.
Washington now backs the conclusions in a U.N. report last month which said mankind was to blame for global warming and predicted an increase in droughts and heatwaves and a slow rise in sea levels.
"There is a strong consensus on the science,'' de Boer said. ''We can now put behind us the period when science was called into question.''
Several environmental groups criticized the United States, which in 2001 pulled out of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gases, for refusing to support carbon dioxideemissions reduction targets at the Potsdam meeting.
Developing countries cite the U.S. position as a reason for their refusal to commit to reduction targets.
I realize that different cultures--indeed, different individuals within each culture--are going to have widely divergent ideas about how much change is realistic or even tolerable when the benefits of living green and adopting carbon-neutral lifestyles are, in many respects, not immediate, visible, and tangible. And Big Business in all its incarnations has done a bang-up job of scaring everyone into believing that reducing America's carbon footprint will lead to all manner of economic woes, not to mention intrusions on one's very freedoms, like the right to drive a massive, gas-guzzling SUV to, say, a football stadium, the building of which required the clearcutting and dredging-and-filling of once-sensitive land. Or the right to eat beef and pork for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. Or the right to consume our way through time and space, demonstrating to the world once and for all that he who dies with the most toys wins.
But when all is said and done, I have to hope that even the stubbornest among us would want his children to enjoy a habitable world, as opposed to one in which draconian emergency restrictions had to be enacted and enforced lest everyone starve when arable, above-water land was in critically short supply and drowning in a hurricane-caused flood was a very real threat. Or, equally disturbing, a world in which ecosystems are so violently and precipitously thrown off-balance, deadly viruses that were once contained deep within rainforests emerge and begin to sicken the planet's already-stressed animals, including humans.
It should also be noted that some of us have already begun to view the climate challenge as an enormous economic opportunity.
Beyond the strawman arguments posited in such irresponsible statements as "Scientists disagree about how bad things will get and when we'll really notice any ill effect" or "Last year's hurricane season was tame, so I'm not buying this whole global warming thing", there really is nothing to debate at this point. We must take action, we must commit to a solid and comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gases, and we must do it now.
It's time to put our pride in our collective pocket and take our place at the table alongside Europe's leaders. They know we're well-armed--aren't we always?--but this time, at this international sit-down, the weapons will be American ingenuity and innovativeness, two resources we actually do have in limitless supply.
February 07, 2006
How Not To Change a Culture
The whole Muhammad cartoon situation does more to depress me than to infuriate me. The cartoons themselves range from uninteresting to dumb, and there's nothing good about violent religious fanatics anywhere.
Everyone ought to object to the illiberal and antifeminist aspects of Islamic culture, and people across the world ought to work together to change them. The great delusion of right-wing bloggers is that this change can be achieved by military means. That can sometimes work against a nationalistic ideology, where the complete defeat of a nation in battle can break the will of its people. But religion puts its highest value on things outside the world, far beyond the blast radius of laser-guided bombs. Mere conquest won't eradicate a fundamentally religious ideology, unless you're willing to enslave the people for a century or two and kill anyone who doesn't give up the faith. I have enough faith in human decency to believe that even the majority of right-wing bloggers don't want that.
The way that the face of Islam will eventually be changed (and I'm sure it will) is by a gradual process of cultural engagement over several decades, and by simple improvements in Muslims' standard of living. Give Muslims stable jobs and education and pharmaceuticals and TV and classic rock and Kobe Bryant jerseys, and they'll act less like savage tribesmen and more like liberal city folk. This process happens everywhere -- throughout the history of the West, and now it's happening in the small Indian villages where my mom and dad grew up. It just needs to happen in a few more places.
This mess with the cartoons isn't a huge step backwards in that process -- the invasion of Iraq was a lot worse, in terms of making Muslims less suspicious of the West so we could better influence how things go over there. But if you dream of a better Islamic world, it's nothing to be happy about.
October 18, 2005
Gilberto Gil Goes to Government
Cool happenings over in my father's homeland, where the superlative Gilberto Gil (if you don't know, go look him up in iTunes) was tapped by Lula to become Minister of Culture, and is proving himself just as provocative and amusing as we'd all hoped:
For several years now, largely under the rest of the world's radar, the Brazilian government has been building a counterculture of its own. The battlefield has been intellectual property - the ownership of ideas - and the revolution has touched everything, from internet filesharing to GM crops to HIV medication. Pharmaceutical companies selling patented Aids drugs, for example, were informed that Brazil would simply ignore their claims to ownership and copy their products more cheaply if they didn't offer deep discounts. (The discounts were forthcoming.) Gil himself has thrown his weight behind new forms of copyright law, enabling musicians to incorporate parts of others' work in their own. And in one small development that none the less sums up the mood, the left-wing administration of President Luiz Inacio da Silva, or "Lula", has announced that all ministries will stop using Microsoft Windows on their office computers. Instead of paying through the nose for Microsoft operating licences, while millions of Brazilians live in poverty, the government will use open-source software, collaboratively designed by programmers worldwide and owned by no one.
The two worlds of Gil's music and his politics merged most closely when he announced that he would license some of his own songs for free downloading. Time Warner, which owned the licences in question, quickly announced that, actually, he would not. "That showed me how difficult the situation is," he says. "An author is not the owner anymore. He doesn't exercise his rights. His rights are exercised by someone else, and sometimes the two don't coincide."
September 19, 2005
Old Europe -- Just Like the New Country
A week after Koizumi deployed his lipstick assassins to win a landslide victory for reform in Japan, we were supposed to see the same in Germany. Angela Merkel, an American-style economic reformer who promised free market solutions and a reigning-in of the welfare state was slated to crush Old Europe's Gerhard Schroeder. But a funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box...
Merkel's campaign was inept, self-contradictory, uninspired. Schroeder was canny, quick, and crucified Merkel as a uncompassionate conservative, slicing her lead in the polls and leaving election night a nailbiting affair. When all was said and voted, Merkel's Christian Democrats had won a plurality with 35.2% while Schroeder's Social Democrats got 34.3%. And then Schroeder did something very American: he claimed victory.
The argument? That his surge shows the German people didn't want to replace him. Apparently German elections run not on majorities and pluralities, but on momentum and buzz. And since neither broke 50%, it'll all be about the coalitions they form in Parliament -- if Schroeder can get the majority, he'll win. Only problem is he and the Greens only make 44% of Parliament and he won't cooperate with the Christian Democrats -- Merkel's party -- unless he's made chancellor. So a return of the Schroeder is fairly unlikely. But I do like the results. Much as Bush proved that his second place in 2000 meant the American people much preferred him to the guy they voted in, Schroeder is proving the same. And if he wins with it, maybe we'll find our friends across the Atlantic aren't as old-fashioned as Rumsfeld would have us think.
July 30, 2005
It's Not Me, It's You
Lula, whose government is now so rife with corruption that the populist is facing impeachment, has apparently decided on a new public relations strategy. Protesting innocence and offering exculpatory evidence is for losers, the new breed of angel-pure, Latin-American leftists simply tells the citizenry that they're a bunch of scumbags and should stop being so goddamn hypocritical:
As his government and his reputation collapse around him, Mr. da Silva in Brazil has taken a similar tack. He initially contended that "as regards its electoral behavior, the Workers' Party did what has been done systematically in Brazil." But he has since abandoned those excuses in favor of protestations of innocence and personal integrity.
"Among 180 million Brazilians, there is no one, neither man nor woman, with the authority to lecture me about ethics, morals or honesty," he said in a speech here last week. "In this country, the person who can debate ethics with me has yet to be born."
There's also a dangerous geopolitical aspect to all this. A few short years ago, Lula was a hero, a hope. He was a Democratically elected labor leader who promised populism without authoritiarianism. But, to the Brazilian people, he and his promises are failing. And when hope in democrats gets dashed, resignation towards dictators reemerges:
Frustration has reached dangerous levels in several countries, with sometimes violent street protests. The shift from authoritarian governments to democracies, many had hoped, would squelch the kind of corruption that predominated when dictators ran the affairs of state to the benefit of a small clique of insiders and threatened whistle-blowers.
Yet successor governments across the political spectrum, whether free-market advocates like Mr. Toledo or self-proclaimed leftists like Mr. da Silva, have proved even more susceptible. With once-closed economies having been opened up and corporate profits at record levels, the opportunities for graft and bribes are larger than ever.
So widespread is the disgust that last year another regionwide poll found that a majority of Latin Americans would prefer a return to dictatorship if it would bring economic benefits. Despite improved economic indicators since then, the ranks of the poor have continued to swell, as has the resentment of those who are pocketing the wealth of the nation for their own benefit.
April 23, 2005
JoBo on NoKo: Uh-Oh!
Via Laura Rozen, we learn that
The WSJ reports that the US believes North Korea could be preparing a nuclear test. It has asked China to pressure North Korea to prevent it.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but doesn't the guy in charge of preventing this kind of thing have a name that rhymes with "Tron Molten"? Why, yes he does. Whoops!
Also: How long before someone on The Corner and/or Michelle Malkin implies that Bolton could have prevented the nuclear test if he hadn't been so busy answering the SFRC Democrats' stupid questions? I'm betting two days, m'self.
April 06, 2005
I agree with basically all of this. And it's one of the things I find most galling about Blair's support for Bush, and Bush's complete unwillingness to moderate key policies to help Blair. Tony has been one of the left's brighter lights in recent years, leading a resurgence of Labour and creating a clear and compelling model for liberals. And then he went and threw it away on our unconcerned leader and his incompetent and immoral wars. Now, with election coming, he's battered and bloodied because he tried to be a liberal hawk in a neocon war and got burned for it, and so, I fear, will the left.
Now, I've no reason to believe that Blair's support for Iraq was anything but sincere. Some backed the war on gut, anti-tyranny grounds, and right or wrong, their convictions led them. Blair seems to be one of these. But he's destroying his government and derailing his agenda by refusing to admit the mistake, and he's isolating himself from ideological allies by allowing the Iraq War to define him. Now maybe it'll just lead to a Liberal Democrats-Labour hook-up, something I'd find defensible if not necessarily ideal. But in any case, by weakening himself, he's hastened the end of the Labour project. Don't believe me? Check out this Luntz focus group. The guy threw away the third way to go to war the wrong way. Clinton lost control of his attempt thanks to his own sexual appetites (and an obsessive right-wing Congress). It'd be nice if just one visionary liberal would put the movement ahead of themselves for awhile so other leaders could have a model untainted by disgrace...
April 01, 2005
More on Sudan
You know what? I'm wrong, or at least three days too late. My post below on Sudan is pretty frustrated, but it stopped being accurate about three days ago. On March 29th, the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII (which allows them to use force), passed a pretty powerful resolution implementing much of what I mentioned below. A committee has been formed to identify the ringleaders and, in 30 days, freeze all their assets, end all their travel, and generally twist the screws on them. Of course, in 30 days, the folks who know themselves to be the bad guys can liquidate their foreign holdings and thus escape financial harm, but that's not really the point. This resolution, coming three days before the new one authorizing the use of the ICC, means the Security Council has finally gotten serious on Darfur. The next step is serious sanctions, and then it's a troop deployment. "People who know things", like the ICG, seem to think that the measures just undertaken will work, at least to a degree. I hope so. Because I'm not particularly impressed with the joint UN/AU peacekeeping missions, which rarely seem effective. But if it gets to that, I hope the council will have the spine to deploy.
On that note, wouldn't it be generally helpful if the UN had a large and highly-trained peacekeeping force for these sorts of ventures? I mean hell, they can hire mercenaries for themselves if no countries want to offer troops, but as it is, their deployments are such a joke that they intimidate essentially no one in the African world. As I mentioned in my post below, when they mobilized in Sierra Leone, the rebels they were supposed to calm went ahead and captured 300 of them, spurring Tony Blair to send over 1,000 crack troops who not only liberated the UN peacekeepers, but also stabilized the country. Having a force like that at the UN's disposal would, if only for the intimidation factor, really make the institution's life a lot easier. At any rate, I'll suggest it to John Bolton next time I see him -- I'm sure he'll be quite amused.
While researching the resolutions on Sudan, I basically browsed through everything the UN Security Council has done in 2005. Of the resolutions they've passed, 9 of the 13 have been directed at countries in Africa. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the continent. Not a ringing endorsement for the rest of us, either. UN resolutions are often scuttled because one or another permanent member has financial or strategic interests in the country, and thus vetoes the resolution before it can ever be implemented. But so few developed countries have major stakes in African nations, at least the troubled ones, that that almost never happens when dealing with African issues. So on the one hand, it gives the UN more freedom to operate, but on the other, it explains, at least partly, why these countries are in such terrible shape.
March 24, 2005
Revolutions for Everybody!
What? Another revolution? In Kyrgyzstan? It's like a flu going around (somewhere, Malcolm Gladwell heard that and raised a fist in solidarity). In any case, this one seems like it went pretty orderly, which is all you can hope for. I don't pretend to know anything about the situation in Kyrgyzstan so I've no way to evaluate this. Sue, who does, is pretty shocked, and adds that, atypically, it was spearheaded by rural villagers, which warms my proletarian heart.
Anyway, huzzah! Power to the people! But have you ever seen an opposition leader less excited to be liberated from jail than this guy? That's a "who are you kids and why are you waking me up" look if I ever saw one. Caption him in comments if the spirit so moves you.