Thursday, February 28, 2008

SLAVE LABOR HEPARIN: Scraped fresh from pig intestines in China


Tell me, how did your silly businessmen get so stupid and greedy? I would like to bottle and sell whatever it is you're on.

It was only ealier in the week when your host mused, "What could be a funnier joke than the one in which Americans cede all the progress they've made in the social contract for an industrial process which bypasses it by simply moving its manufacturing to a country which has none?"

This was in our gently amusing article on crap toilet seats and blues harmonicas made by slave labor in China.

Of course, if your toilet seat stains irrevocably yellow the first time you miss and urinate on it or the paint bubbles and peels two weeks after purchase, the world's not going to end. You can live with a toilet seat you've nicknamed "Old Yellow Stains."

But if you're getting a drug after surgery or as part of a dialysis treatment, one to thin your blood, and it's made in China -- you're in a bigger jam.

Fine biochemicals like heparin cost money and who can argue with the logic of increasing profits by sending the work to a slave labor country where it can be made in some kitchen not checked by any annoying regulatory agency?

"[At] least one of the consolidators received supplies from small, unregulated family workshops that scraped mucous membrane from pig intestines and cooked it, eventually producing a dry substance known as crude heparin," reported the New York Times today.

The article reported the FDA was tracing 488 allergic reactions from slave labor-prepared heparin, sold through the American companies Baxter Pharmaceutical and Scientific Protein Laboratories, the latter being a firm "that is the majority owner" of the Chinese plant implicated in the manufacture of tainted biochemical.

Naturally, neither company has much to say.

In 2008, American businessmen are careful to cover their hindquarters and keep their lips buttoned, pretending that they didn't REALLY know how they've sold their customers down the river by looking the other way and sending their supply and manufacturing to an unregulated country impossible to audit until AFTER a problem has occured.

DD just doesn't see why we can't keep heparin purification at home.

Having pig farmers scrape intestines in their kitchens is just as doable by American hands as by Chinese. It could be really big in Maryland where there are all those massive pig farms surrounded by excrement lagoons to keep people away and the Chesapeake Bay healthy. I'm sure the farmers wouldn't even have to do it themselves, just supervise. They could hire illegal immigrants to do the gutting and scraping, like the meat-packing industry. Oh wait, they're already a part of the meat-packing industry. Tee-hee.

And if we committed to getting rid of all those nonsensical regulations so that drug manufacturers don't have to worry about making products that sicken and kill people, then it would be ever so cheaper to make the drugs we need at home and American businessmen could cut China out of the picture.

DD has an idea for businesses in the formerly good ol' USA, one for quick profits in the cosmetic surgery business.

In graduate school I worked on characterizing enzymes known as collagenases. To study collegenases, one needed collagen, the protein which the enzymes degraded. We prepared our collagen by going to the slaughterhouse and getting fetal calfskins. We'd toss the calfskins in a tub of water and add a little preservative to impede bacterial growth. The we let them soften up good for a couple weeks.

After the soaking step, we'd take them into a cleaning room and scrape the fur off, rinsing it into the drain. It was a revolting thing to do and there was always much gagging and retching, insuring we only did it once or twice a year. (Doesn't this sound like it could be adapted for a good scene from one of those sadistic horror movies kids like so much, like "Saw XX," "Hostel 15" or "Turista 5"?)

Once the hair was scraped off the hides, we cut the skin into strips and minced it by hand in a meat grinder. Then we tossed the mince into glass vats of acetic acid. The vats were kept in a cold room and left to cure for a weeks or so, at which point the collagen in the minced calfskin had started to leach into the acetic acid.

When we needed fresh collagen, we just went into the cold room, scooped out some of the goop with a beaker and squeezed it through a cheese cloth to strain out the chunks of hide.

It's a process anyone can do, just like scraping pig intestines for heparin in China. You could sell your collagen to an American pharmaceutical company that would resell it to cosmetic surgeons. Call it Pharmaderm or something to throw off people who'd be discouraged if they knew you made it in your kitchen with a meat grinder, some knives and an aluminum table.

Everybody wins and we fight to keep our fine drug purification from going to China!



A Blood Thinner Might Be Linked to More Deaths -- from the New York Times.

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