Consumer Alert

Worldwide implications of the pet food contamination debacle

I wrote about this last week. Specifically, how the exportation of contaminated ingredients from China that are used in pet food is only the tip of the iceberg. It affects CAM and mainstream medicine. And now The New York Times reports that this contamination is a world wide problem.

Last year, Panamanian government officials unwittingly mixed diethylene glycol into cold medicine. Families have since reported 365 deaths from the poison, 100 of which have been confirmed so far. They are planning to dig up the graves of other children.

According to Wikipedia, “Diethylene glycol has been responsible for a number of mass poisonings. The most infamous incident was the 1937 elixir sulfanilamide disaster in the USA, in which 107 people died after taking sulfanilamide dissolved in diethylene glycol. This was the impetus for the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938. In recent years, deaths from medicines adulterated with diethylene glycol have been reported from South Africa, India, Nigeria, Argentina, Haiti, and most recently in Panama.

Where is diethylene glycol normally used?

  • Anti-freezing and anti-icing additive
  • Solvent or plasticizer for plastic, lacquer, paint and varnish
  • Hydraulic, brake, thermal exchange fluids and fuel additive
  • General purpose cleaners
  • Explosives manufacture
  • Preservative, rust remover, and disinfectant

The source of the diethylene glycol in the Panama deaths? A Chinese company that made and exported the poison as pure glycerin.

The problem is a combination of ignorance and mendacity by the manufacturers and exporters, aided by indifference and defiance by the Chinese government.

Here’s an example of what we’re up against. In the Panama case, “The Chinese drug administration has concluded that it has no jurisdiction in the case because the factory is not certified to make medicine.”

Here’s a summary of quality control challenges faced by traditional Chinese medicine.

Think about this the next time you take a traditional Chinese medicine or consider buying drugs online because they’re cheaper.

5/6/07 10:39 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.