Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sham: Chinese Counterfeits Kill

An exposé appeared today in the New York Times that is a must-read for anyone concerned about the source of their medicines and dietary supplements. The headline in today's post links directly to the NYT article about this issue, but does require you to fill in a brief, no-cost registration. It's worth it just for this extensive article.

It seems that yet another Chinese scandal is developing regarding contaminated products being sold for human consumption. While many of these scandals deal with the basic environmental contamination that is so rampant in mainland China (absorbed into anything that grows, such as herbs, mushrooms, agricultural crops), this news is even more repulsive because it is a story of greed and corruption. It shows that there are literally no controls on what business people say and do in China, which can lead to very serious consequences.

In this case, greed led to industrial solvents being sold as glycerine, which was later used around the world in a number of contaminated pharmaceutical products including enemas used on little children and cough syrups that killed dozens of senior citizens in Central America. Researchers say the number of deaths could be in the "thousands."

This topic ties directly into a recent "Sham vs. Wham" post entitled, "Does the Source of an Ingredient Matter?". It is quite an issue, because anyone producing a quality Dietary Supplement or Pharmaceutical product using ingredients from the USA or Europe faces this problem. Chinese products are SO much cheaper -- the temptation is there for anyone looking for an herb or a botanical product of any kind to go with the Chinese supplier. And the Chinese are very aggressive marketers on the OEM front, advertising their botanicals and pharma ingredients along with low, low prices in all the major marketplaces.

In the case of our small business, ProActive BioProducts, we've had experiences with this China problem as well. Before we imported the Swedish Herbal Institute brand into North America, a company had actually stolen our Swedish brand name and put it on boxes of Chinese herbs sold here. Even today you can go on the Internet and find companies from China selling low-grade OEM herbs using our trademarks (they want to sell these less effective and potentially contaminated products to other manufacturers). Sadly, I know they will find buyers, because there are people in every country, not just China, who care more about profits than safety. (And there are always consumers who will grab the $12.95 bottle of supplements instead of the $19.95 because "it's all the same.")

Where will this China problem lead us? Will you be one of those Wal-Mart customers buying their new "organic" foods, much of which will come from China? Personally, I'm going to make sure that anything I ingest originates as far from China as possible.


[PS added 5/7: Some specialized herbs come from China, and are grown nowhere else. In that case, you've got to rely on the diligence of a quality provider who examines all raw materials and conducts scientific testing to ensure quality and a product free of contamination]

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