Friday, September 26, 2008

How much can a fat cat CEO earn?

The world is a very comical place. About 1 billion people still live on less than US$1 per day, according to the United Nations. Out of this, a total of 640 million of the world’s poor live within our region - the Asia Pacific.

International efforts to eradicate poverty (Millennium Development Goals) do not get much media attention. Well, not when there is much more critical news at hand, the death of America’s financial empire in the absence of a US$700 billion bail out.

At Wall Street, things are definitely tougher than the sub-Saharan desert and Melanesia where food, water and healthcare are scarce.

At Wall Street, the top guys at Lehman Bros, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are starving too as they lose millions of dollars in their personal wealth due to their stocks or options all having tanked.

Greed is good
Tough luck on these Gordon Gekkos (character from Hollywood’s 1987 “Wall Street” movie) who motto is “greed is good”. Watch these guys' wealth dim a little.

These are the losses tallied by executive compensation guru Graef Crystal (as at July 2008):
 James Cayne, the former CEO of Bear Stearns Co (since swallowed by JP Morgan Chase & Co) who sold most of his shareholding, lost $984 million (on paper) due to his Bear Stearns shares having plummeted. Crystal’s calculations show that Cayne lost $1.1 billion based on all the options, free-share grants and shares that he holds. Poor wee thing. Bear Stearns has sunk, like a Titanic.

 Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, another poor guy now, is estimated to have lost $823 million in the stockmarket. Poor guy. Lehman has filed for bankruptcy.

 Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs Group Inc, well the value of his shares dropped $128 million, and his option paper loss was $51 million – his total “loss” was $179 million.

 John Mack of Morgan Stanley, estimated market loss was $120 million.

These poor men in Armani suits used to run the world’s financial markets like they owned the universe (remember Tom Wolfe’s book Masters of the Universe?). It is about time American shareholders put a stop to excessive compensation for CEOS.

I don’t envy these CEOs' wealth. I just find it ludicrous that one sixth of the world lives on less than US$2 per day - just as I find it ludicrous that there are men with $60 million in annual compensation.

I find it even more ludicrous that the pay for performance culture in American has been fed to us, and held up as the only model of reward system. What sort of reward systems are management consultants selling to our part of the world? A culture that sanctions the "greed is good" principle, just like these modern-day Gekkos?

Income disparity
In the report, "A Decade of Executive Excess" which was released a while ago by the Institute for Policy Studies and United For a Fair Economy (liberal study groups based in Washington, DC and Boston respectively), it says that during the 1990s, CEOs compensation (salaries, bonuses and stock options) rose 481 percent (after inflation 459 percent) while wages for the average American rose 28 percent during the same period. CEOs in the US earn 82 times more than the average workers.

Judging by recent salary trends, these excesses have not stopped.

Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ CEO, earned $67.9 million in 2007 – a record at Wall Street. Mr Blankfein, 53, will receive $26.8 million in cash plus $41.1 million in shares and options on top of a $600,000 base salary.

The payout is the largest ever for an executive at a Wall Street investment bank according to research by Bloomberg. Goldman Sachs announced record pre-tax profits of $17.6 billion for 2007.

Merrill Lynch paid its former head honcho E. Stanley O'Neal $46 million in total compensation in 2006. He had $700,00 in salary, $18.5 million in cash bonus, and stocks worth about $26.8 million. O’Neal also had use of the company’s private jet, and full-time car and drive. Not bad for someone who managed to cause the great Merrill empire to crumble. And oh, he also got compensated over $160 million when he departed (this was despite his trail of disasters).

His successor John Thain got himself a package that could end up being over $140 million if he could move Merrill’s share price back to it high. Wonder what happened to his job with Merrill being taken over?

Paul Krugman, as far back as 2002, wrote in the American Prospect, (I first read this in 2006) that the average American families are not benefiting from income rises and productivity growth in the US.

According to Krugman, the top 1 percent of the US wealthy are the real benefactors of America’s wealth and income growth. Although the median family income (from 1979-89) rose 11 percent, 70 percent of the rise in average family income went to the pockets of the top 1 percent (in this 1 percent universe, the average income for a 4-person family was $800,000 and above).

“There are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese” – sings the mouse in An American Tail, anticipating his good fortunes in America. Well, you can get all the cheese you want, provided you are not too busy fighting off the fat cats.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

NZ White Rabbit toxic too

Lame, very lame. That is what I would say is the NZ's Food Safety Authority's (NZFSA) response to its discovery that China's White Rabbit lollies contained unacceptable levels of melamine (a compound used to make plastic). Instead of advising the public to stay away from eating White Rabbit, the NZ FSA should force retailers to remove this toxic product from our food aisles.

The NZ Herald reported today: that NZ FSA's testing found the presence of 180 ppm of melamine, the substance which has been implicated in the tainted baby milk powder scandal in China. "This is a serious concern" said Sandra Daly, NZFSA's Deputy Chief Executive.

"We have issued a Director General's statement advising people not to eat these products as we cannot discount the likelihood of health risks resulting from the consumption of these sweets. The product appears to come from a number of manufacturers via a number of importers and we are advising against eating any of these products."

I wonder why the government has not moved to ban the product altogether or make Asian retailers remove these off their shelves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Ugly Americans protecting their cows

Ugly Americans – What did we expect, free access to their dairy market?

According to this story I read online today, American farmers are beginning to shiver at the prospects of any Free Trade Agreement between the US and New Zealand . NZ’s dairy farmers will clobber them, no doubt.

The report says: The US National Milk Producers Federation is demanding full exclusion of Kiwi dairy products. The United States has agreed to begin free trade talks in March with the P4 nations, comprising New Zealand , Singapore, Chile and Brunei. American farmers are seeking the exclusion because of what they call our dairy industry's unique structure and excessive manipulation of the dairy markets globally and in the US.”

Spokesman Jerry Kozak was reported as saying this manipulation will drive down dairy farmer income in America, force farms out of business and create a ripple effect swamping dairy plants and other rural business. He says the New Zealand Government must be salivating at the prospect of getting unfettered access to the US market. Bollocks, this is protectionism personified!

Well, Mr Kozak, free trade must work both ways. America must wake up to the fact that it can’t force the rest of the world to sing the free trade tune, and when it comes to its prized industries under threat, it suddenly sings from another song sheet. Shame! Shame!

Dump these Chinese products too

Today's NZ Herald reported that Fonterra denied any knowledge of revelations that its Chinese subsidiary San Lu received complaints as long ago as December last year blaming its infant formula for illnesses in babies.

Fonterra chief executive Andrew Ferrier issued the denial today after an official Chinese investigation reportedly found San Lu had lied for eight months to hide complaints about its melamine-contaminated baby formula.

While Fonterra slugs it out to clear its name. Householders like moi will be avoiding all China products if possible. My friend sent me an unqualified list (I think it is from Hong Kong, based on my limited ability to recognise Chinese characters)) of dairy and related products to ban from your household.

香港检测的 不合格名单
Not qualified list
Manufacturer's name & address

1 . KLIM Instant Full Cream Milk Powder (1.8 kg)
( 淨重 : 1.8 千克 )
Manufacturer: Nestle Shuangcheng Ltd.
Address: Friendship Road , Shuangcheng City , Heilongjiang Province, PRC

2. Nestle Carnation Calcium Plus Non Fat Milk Powder (1.6 kg)
三花高鈣脫脂奶粉 ( 淨重 : 1600 克 )
Manufacturer: Nestle Shuangcheng Ltd.
Address: Friendship Road , Shuangcheng City , Heilongjiang Province, PRC

3. Nespray
3 + 歲以上
( 淨重 : 900 克 )
Manufacturer: Nestle Shuangcheng Ltd
Address: Nestle Shuangcheng Ltd., PRC &nbs p;

4. Nestle Dairy Farm Pure Milk
雀巢牛奶公司純牛奶 ( 淨容量 : 1 升 )
Manufacturer: Nestle Qingdao Ltd.
Address: Weihai Xi Lu, Laixi City , Qingdao , P.R. China

5. Mengniu Pure Milk
( 淨體積 : 250 毫升 )
製造商:中國內蒙古蒙牛乳業 ( 集團 ) 股份有限公司
地址 : 中國內蒙古呼和浩特市和林格爾盛樂經濟園區

6. Monmilk Breakfast Milk Walnut Milk Beverage
( 淨體積 : 250 毫? ?/FONT> )
製造商:中國內蒙古蒙牛乳業 ( 集團 ) 股份有限公司
地址 : 中國內蒙古呼和浩特市和林格爾盛樂經濟園區

7. Monmilk Suan Suan Ru Sour Milk Beverage (Mango Flavour)
蒙牛酸酸乳酸味奶類飲品 ( 芒果味 )
( 淨體積 : 250 毫升 )
製造商:中國內蒙古蒙牛乳業 ( 集團 ) 股份有限公司
地址 : 中國內蒙古呼和浩特市和林格爾盛樂經濟園區

8. Monmilk
Milk Deluxe Pure Milk
( 淨體積 : 250 毫升 )
製造商:中國內蒙古蒙牛乳業 ( 集團 ) 股份有限公司
地址 : 中國內蒙古呼和浩特市和林格爾盛樂經濟園區

9. Yili High Calcium Low Fat Milk Beverage
( 淨體積 : 250 毫升 )
地址 : 中國內蒙古呼和浩特市金川開發區金三道 2 號

10. Dutch Lady Pure Milk
( 淨容量 : 1 公升 )
Manufacturer: Tianjian Dutch Lady Dairy Foods Co., Ltd.
Address: South of Dongting Road , Hexi District, Tianjin , PRC

11. Vita Fresh Milk
( 淨容量 : 236 毫升 )
地址 : 中國廣東省深圳市光明華僑畜牧 場

12. Nestle Vanilla Flavour Ice Cream Cone
雀巢雲呢拿味雪糕甜筒 (8 支盒裝 )
Manufacturer: Nestle Tianjin Ltd.
Address: No.149 Nanhai Road , TEDA, Tianjin , PRC

13. Nestle Chocolate Flavour Ice Cream Cone
雀巢朱古力味雪糕甜筒 (8 支盒裝 )
Manufactur er: Nestle Tianjin Ltd.
Address: No.149 Nanhai Road , TEDA, Tianjin , PRC

14. Meiji Ujikintoki (red bean and green tea frozen confection)
(6 支盒裝 :6 x 75 克 )
Manufacturer: Guangdong M&F- Yan Tang Dairy Products Co., Ltd
Address: Datanggang Shahe, Guangzhou , China

15. Meiji Hokkaido Azuk i (red bean ice cream)
(6 支盒裝 :6 x 70 克 )
Manufacturer: Guangdong M&F- Yan Tang Dairy Products Co., Ltd
Address: Datanggang Shahe, Guangzhou , China

16. Trappist Dairy Low Fat Yogurt Drink
( 淨容量 : 200 毫升 )
地址 : 香港元朗青山公路二十八咪半

17. Strawberry Sorbet
戀愛果實士多啤梨雪巴 ( 淨重 : 54 克 )
Manufacturer: Xincheng Greenearth Food Co., Ltd
Address: No.62 Xingjianzhai, Huazhou Road , Pudong, Shanghai , China

18. Natural Choice Milk Ice Bar
( 淨體積 : 85 毫升 )
Manufacturer: Shanghai Yili AB Foods Co., Ltd
Address: No. 269 Beidou Road, Minhang Zone, Shanghai P.R. of China

19. 牛奶木瓜口味飲料 (Papaya Milk Drink) (350ml) -- 尚効
製造商:春喬食品興業股份有限公司 ( 地址 : 台灣彰化縣員林鎮鎮興里山腳路 3 段 25 巷 72 號 )

20. 阿薩姆奶茶 (Assam Milk Tea) (350ml) -- 尚効
製造商:春喬食品興業股份有限公司 ( 地址 : 台灣彰化縣員林鎮鎮興里山腳路 3 段 25 巷 72 號 )

21. 藍山炭燒咖啡 (Carbonize Coffee) (280ml) -- 尚効
製造商:春喬食品興業股份有限公司 ( 地址 : 台灣彰化縣員林鎮鎮興里山腳路 3 段 25 巷 72 號 )

Cancer - the dirty word

Cancer is a dirty word, well at least to me. We went to my cousin’s wedding and hubby discovered a lump under Princess of the House’s arm. We took her to our GP. The GP thought it wasn’t serious. He suggested we wait to see what happened. My friend at work, BY, (I have her to thank!), told me in no uncertain terms, I had to seek a second opinion, and gave me her pediatrician’s name. The rest, like they say, is history. That was when Princess was 2.5 years old. She is now 10.

At 4.5 years old, Princess had acute liver failure. We found a liver match at the 11th hour. We were lucky. Others are not so. But near midnight on the day of Princess’ transplant, we had a call from hospital. It didn’t sound good.

Stephen Munn, our surgeon, told us when they cut Princess up, they found cancer in a few places. They suspended the surgery for a while (45 minutes was it? I can’t remember). But after consultations with the best around the world, Dr Munn said (and I will never forget Dr Munn’s words) they decided to go ahead with the liver transplant as cancer is “an imminently treatable” disease. This has been my amulet for a long time now “an imminently treatable disease”. That should be ever cancer parent’s amulet, I reckon.

We have never personally thanked Dr Munn for making the professional decision he and his team made. But he knows -- probably from years in the trade that patients or parents never truly show their gratitude. Why is there need for words when we eat it, drink it, walk it, and live it everyday our Princess is alive.

Cancer – many lives

The cancer saga didn’t end there. Post transplant, when her new liver was thriving, we found cancer lurking again, inside Princess.

Cancer is an insidious disease. It creeps and takes over, when you least expect it. It can be wiped out and killed. But it reincarnates often, like a cat not with nine but a thousand lives. Lucky for Princess, the drugs are getting better. We had had Rituximab in our last treatment, a kind of missile drug, that targets the cancer cells rather than destroy all cells in the body indiscriminately. The first treatment protocol used in Singapore was CHOPP (a cocktail of different drugs, used in chemotheraphy). That was the chemo with its side effects – nausea, hair loss, weight gain (from prednisone, a steroid), constipation. Not wonderful.

World Lymphoma Day

I found out from the NZ Listener magazine that Sept 15 is World Lymphoma Awareness Day (WLAD). How uncanny. Hubby’s birthday is Sept 14th.

Now I will never forget WLAD now! I am not a very scientific person so I find it hard to follow all the different scientific bits of cancer. But I know Princess had Hodgkins, the slow-growing form. It took them a while at the National University Hospital to get a conclusive reading on whether it was Hodgkins or non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL). The differences are very fine, even under super microscopes.

Non-Hodgkins is the one deemed a faster growing cancer. The difference between the two types of lymphoma is based on what type of predominant “bad” cells they find in the “diseased” location, T-cells or B-cells and much more.

I haven’t looked very closely at what a cancerous cell looks like, but I have seen what they have shown on House -- under the microscope, cancer cells look like little colonisers – definitely aggression personified. They give you the goosebumps when you look at them because you know their capacity to render you powerless, like an imperialist master over your body, the colony.

These are some facts I have since found:

 In NZ, lymphoma (since the source is not specific, am assuming it refers to both Hodgkins and NHL) is the sixth most common cancer in the country affecting about 800 people every year. Certain types of lymphoma can kill in as little as six months.

 There has been a 30 percent rise in lymphoma in NZ over the past five years and this is projected to rise further.

 What’s scary is most of the people surveyed think symptoms of lymphoma are just signs of flu. Some 89 percent of 501 people surveyed in NZ could not correctly identify that lymphoma was a cancer of the lymphatic system and 94 per cent did not list lymphoma in the top of their mind as cancers. Only 2 percent could recognise the symptoms.

Lymph nodes are like your body’s ammunition against infections. They are the size of a jelly bean (about 1 cm) and when they are in battle mode, they become enlarged.

Princess of the House had a node the size of a ping pong ball under her arm. No other symptoms that I can recall. Other major hubs for your nodes are your neck, armpit and groin. So never ignore those lumps. Other symptoms are: night sweats, persistent fevers, rapid weight loss, trouble breathing, chest pains, weakness and tiredness for longer than two weeks.

The not-so-bad news is the success rate for lymphoma cancer treatments is about 75 percent, according to one report.

US stats

In the US, NHL is the 5th most frequently diagnosed cancer in the US. More than 66,000 new cases of NHL are expected in the US this year (close to 35,500 males and 30,700 females). (Sourced from Genetech). Of the estimated 360,000 Americans living with NHL, about 30 percent have diffuse large B-cell lymphoma and approximately 30 percent have low-grade lymphoma.

You can get very deep into the subject. There are something like over 40 different manifestations of lymphoma.

Hubby’s sister

Darling Aunty, my hubby’s sister, is dying from brain cancer; NHL, it is. The kind that spreads fast and furious, like a wild fire. She had it in her kidneys, they killed it. The cancer reinvented itself in her brain, taking over her body – her new master. We are staring at death, very up close and personal.

Princess of the House had just had 2 months in hospital, a narrowing in her bile ducts. The wizards at Startship’s Gastroenterology are doing their best to keep the bile ducts stretched, with a stent. It stays in there till the ducts are wide enough for bile to pass through without clogging up. We are waiting, waiting. We have faith in these Gastro folks. They are the best in the world, they are our Merlins.

Now Princess has unexplained pains at the back of her right ankle. After every imaginable scan and biopsy one can expect, her ankle is still hurting. She now wears a "moonboot" to keep her ankle from being stressed too much. Is there cancer lurking somewhere in the nether regions of ber body? Our oncologist gave us the clear recently, no cancer, she says. The PET (Positron emission tomography: a type of scan where radioactive material is injected into your body to tract cancer/blood flow etc in the body) scan we did on Princess in Melbourne in June gave us the clear. Yet, we never relax. We can never relax.

Truth of suffering

Sometimes, I throw all these vestiges of fear or nightmares at the back of my mind, deep, deep at the back where I can easily snuff out every trace of it. It is easier to forget. Recall takes courage, real courage.

Then, this week, I heard from a dear old friend of cancer in his family. Lymphoma as well. We all have our nightmares to deal with. We all try our best to bury these nightmares and walk tall, relying on their inner resource to face the day. My concerns become imminently less important when I focus on other people’s suffering.

I see the boy in a wheelchair in hospital school with no arms, no legs; and he is using his little “bit of stump” to throw the dice in a game he was playing. No fuss. Just getting on with his game. He is a hero to me now. I talk to our liver nurse (a mom with a kid who had cancer and now in remission) who has to face sick kids waiting for a liver against the clock ticking. She becomes my reminder of what courage is - to face everyday with inspiration - to go out and do the best we can.

What is real is suffering is universal; not exclusive to me. How we choose to respond makes the difference.

Tomorrow, we hope to escape Starship as Princess’ fever has subsided.

Tomorrow, Princess -- wrapped in a beautifully hand-painted dress with koru design done by her best mate’s mom (Kororia take a bow) -- will sing with over 30 other kids several Maori songs – songs that celebrate bravery, fierceness, courage, warmth, love and friendship.

Useful sites on lymphoma
Leukemia and Blood Foundation NZ

Lymphoma Research Foundation

New York Online Access to Health

Monday, September 22, 2008

End of a great memory - White Rabbit

As Singapore and Malaysia move to ban products from China containing milk or dairy products, what is the NZ food authority doing? Haven’t heard anything at all in the news

Those of us who shop in Asian groceries must therefore be vigilant, and avoid those ultra-cheap candies, preserved foods and biscuits and chocholate wafers from China. Sad as it is, we must do all we can to protect our family from contaminated food.
Sad as it is, we must let White Rabbit go - a lolly mom used to give us as treats. I love how the rice paper melted into my mouth and stayed stuck to the roof of my mouth.

Here’s what Singapore and Malaysia have found. Singapore has discovered that White Rabbit Creamy Candy, a milk-based treat popular with children and adults here, has been found to be contaminated with melamine.

Other brands--Dutch Lady strawberry-flavoured milk and Yili Choice Dairy Fruit Bar Yoghurt Flavoured Ice Confection—are also found to be adulterated by the chemical normally found in plastics.

Since 19 Sep 08, the Singapore government’s food watchdog, AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority) has suspended the import and sale of all milk and milk products from China. These products include milk, ice-cream, yoghurt, confectionery such as chocolates, biscuits and sweets as well as any other products containing milk from China as an ingredient.

Singapore, Malaysia

Singapore’s national daily, The Straits Times, found on Saturday that a 7-Eleven outlet in one of its neighbourhoods, Braddell, had pulled a list of products from its shelves. The list included Snickers bars, M&Ms, Nabisco Chicken In A Biskit, Dove chocolate bars, Mentos yogurt balls, Oreo wafer sticks, and Want Want Take One Baby Bites.

In Malaysia, the Star newspaper reported that: The Government has widened its ban on dairy products imported from China to include confectionary that contain milk, chocolate, chocolate milk, white chocolate and other foods that contain milk. The ban also includes flour-based confectionary products like biscuits.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Back in Hotel Starship

Latest news for family and friends

Princess of the House developed high temperature on Sat after an afternoon at a friend's birthday party. Hubby checked her into ED (emergency department). We are now back in hospital, on two different antibiotics (Gentamicin and Amoxycilin). Waiting for blood cultures and bile cultures to see what's brewing.

Princes of the House looks a bit tired today and worries she will not be able to get to tomorrow's first and only full-dress rehersals for the school's cultural festival on Wed and Thur night. She is in the Maori performance group. I can't wait to hear the kids sing "He Honore".

Nothing much to report. Outside the hospital, the city looks still and awfully silent. Ant-size cars can be spotted from our window. Spongebo and Patrick are having their inane conversations. Since we checked in at 1.30am this morning, I best get some sleep.

Amoxycilin, Aciclovir and Heparin – Safe or not?

I picked up some Aciclovir from the local pharmacy today. Aciclovir is one of the three drugs made by Ranbaxy from India. Ranbaxy made headlines after it failed the USFDA's (US Food and Drug Administration) audit process. Should I give the Aciclovir to Princess of the House? I am not sure, so I rang my local pharmacy. The pharmacist I spoke to says there is no evidence to suggest Ranbaxy products in NZ are problematic.

Ministry Chief Advisor Public Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says "there is no evidence that individual drugs have been affected and patients are advised they should continue taking them." To be really cynical - how does Dr Bloomfield know? Can he trace the origin and the compounds used by Ranbaxy and can be sure it is not sourced from China? Can he assure us there is no contamination in Aciclovir or the Amoxycilin?

I find it distressing Dr Bloomfield can be so certain when the audit process done by the US has failed the company. What can we do??? Is your child ill? Is your child being given Amoxycilin (an antibiotic) or Aciclovir (to treat cold sores)? Princess of the House’s best mate the one with Rapuzel-hair, slept here last night. She has had 2 doses of Amoxycilin since yesterday evening. Should her mom be worried too?

The US FDA has banned about 30 drugs made by Ranbaxy including Cipro (which Princess of the House is also on!) and cholesterol pill Zocor – citing poor quality at two of Ranbaxy’s factories. According to the Financial Times, “Ranbaxy’s latest troubles come only two months after the US Justice Department intensified legal action against the company, alleging adulteration of some of its products. The company has insisted the claims are “baseless”.

The USFDA last week criticised Ranbaxy for violations to ”good manufacturing practice”. It said it could not be sure that processing took place in sterile conditions, nor that there was protection against cross-contamination of pharmaceuticals

What should we do? My local pharmacist tells me there are other sources of Aciclovir (Pacific Pharmaceuticals), but that is not funded by Pharmac. I checked the box on our Cipro – it says “Marketed by Pacific Pharmaceuticals”. Good, do I feel safer?

Am I being paranoid now? Shouldn’t I be? What if Ranbaxy’s Amoxycilin is indeed substandard. Will NZ be scrambling (like the rest of the world will be) for fresh supplies? According to the Ministry of Health’s web info, about 400,000 Amoxycilin prescriptions are made a year; and a 160,000 prescriptions for Aciclovir.

I think I am going to be more paranoid than ever. Pretzel who commented on my blog led me to a site which lists stories of counterfeit products made by China. I felt sick in the stomach when I saw heparin on the list of counterfeits that have shown up in the world. Princess of the House was in hospital for 8 weeks and had many doses of heparin injected into her body. Heparin helps thin the blood to prevent clots.

Heparin is made from the intestines of slaughtered pigs. The mucous membrane from the intestines is collected and cooked, eventually producing a dry substance known as crude heparin.

Baxter suspended the production of heparin in multi-dose vials after four patients died in the US after high doses of heparin. There were also 350 reports of severe allergic reactions to heparin, with symptoms including a rapid drop in blood pressure, burning sensations, headaches, throat swelling and a shortness of breath.

According to the website (check it out yourself Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) contaminated heparin has been linked to 19 deaths in the US and hundreds of allergic reactions. The gist I got from reading the site was that Baxter, which has been buying active ingredients to make heparin, was being sold counterfeit by cowboy operators in China.

Baxter bought its heparin ingredient from China’s Changzhou SPL, a factory in the city of the same name. This facility is actually 55 per cent owned by Scientific Protein Laboratories (does this sound familiar - Sanlu and Fonterra??) which has another manufacturing site in Wisconsin, US. All this happened in April.

The US, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland and Japan have been reported to have pulled heparin products from the market due to the presence of contamination or as a precautionary measure after API links to China were made.

When I did more reading, I found that Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) too had discovered contamination in samples of heparin distributed by UK-based drug giant AstraZeneca. Other manufacturers of heparin are: Hospira and Pfizer. Australia’s drug watchdog TGA says: “AstraZeneca has since confirmed that its heparin API was sourced form China and it is in discussions with the TGA to recall the affected product as soon as possible. The firm also indicated that it is now evaluating its China supply chain.”

I checked NZ’s Ministry of Health’s website and found this statement: “So far, testing of the finished products being supplied to patients in New Zealand indicates that these products are free from contamination.” Should I rest assured? Are we relying on our own testing mechanisms or USFDA to do our job? Do we trust the drug maker’s supply chain?

What everyone should be asking of the Ministry of Health is:
 How many drugs do we import from NZ that have compounds made in China or India or Thailand or Cambodia etc?
 How do we know these compounds are safe for users in NZ?
 Is Pharmac’s funding warped in anyway? (If I don’t buy Ranbaxy’s Aciclovir, who else can I buy from??)
 Should NZ rely on the USFDA to do primary regulation/tests for us?

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Our logic must be, for now, to have some control over NZ’s own supply chain. We know we can’t trust big MNCs -- be they hotshot financial companies (like Merrill or Goldman or AIG) or big pharmas like Baxter or Astra Zeneca who do get duped by unethical Chinese merchants. I have stopped buying Made-in-China food. But the question is can I stop buying drugs with Chinese ingredients or ingredients from unknown sources.