McSpotlight on the
Pharmaceutical Industry
| Pfizer Inc | Hoechst AG | Johnson & Johnson | Boots Plc |

The Pharmaceutical (or drugs) industry is a good example of an industry using immoral or irresponsible marketing. They are commonly criticised for markings dangerous products, or marketing products in a way that has been criticised as being detrimental to physical heath. The same companies are also found to be involved in activities which pollute and damage the environment. All these companies also use animals to test their products, however, they still sell many products after it has been shown that they may be dangerous.

Pfizer in the McSpotlight
Pfizer Inc 235 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 100017, USA

In 1990, the US Generic Pharmaceutical Industry listed Pfizer as one of the companies accused of fraudulent and deceptive practices for its failure to report severe side effects of its Feldene drug before it obtained US approval.

Shiley Inc marketed a heart valve between 1979 and 1986. Taking only Ffizers' figures, at least 394 of these valves ruptured causing 252 deaths by 1990. Shiley allegedly knew of the valve's faults but continued to market whilst trying to right them. 82,000 of these valve's are implanted world-wide. The US magazine Multinational Monitor listed Pfizer as one of the ten worst companies in 1988 following this saga. Pfizer has still not directly contacted the valve recipients. In January 1991, a suit was filed against the company in the USA on behalf of 55,000 valve recipients.

Pfizer tests cosmetics and drugs on animals. In 1988 alone, the company used 18,398 'recordable' animals in its experiments. The company also produces antibiotics for the dairy industry.

In 1992, Greenpeace listed a Pfizer plant as one of the ten worst polluters in the South East of England. The plant had breached its discharge consent four times since the beginning of 1991 and also discharged ten chemicals for which it did not have a permit, including organochlorines (see WEN report on Chlorine).

Pfizer was the target of a Greenpeace campaign in 1988 for dumping industrial waste in Eire, and a US group listed Pfizer as one of the top fifteen corporate contributors to global pollution, based on 1987 figures.

Roche in the McSpotlight
Roche Holdings AG Grenzacherstr. 124, CH-4002 Basel, Switzerland

According to the medical publication SCRIP, Roche is one of a number of companies being sued in the UK by patients claiming damages for injuries caused by benzodiazepine drugs, such as Roche's Valium. Lawyers claim that the companies failed to warn doctors of the risk of dependency. 3,000 claims had been made by 1991.

Roche was listed by Multinational Monitor magazine as one of the ten worst companies of 1991 for its marketing of its Versed sedative. According to internal company documents released in 1991, Roche ignored early warnings from its research division that its Versed sedative could cause deadly side effects if it was sold in a highly concentrated form. However, Versed was marketed in this form for two years and was linked to about 80 deaths and many more near fatalities. The company allegedly hoped that Versed would replace Valium when its patent expired, but Versed is 4-6 times as potent. Roche now sells Versed in a less concentrated form.

A survey of Swiss drug sales in the Third World in 1988/9, showed Roche as selling the most non-essential and inappropriate drugs of all the Swiss drugs companies. 85% of all drugs it sold in the Third World were found to be non-essential and 51% were inappropriate.

Roche also makes the colorants carophyll and canthaxanthin which are used in poultry feeds to alter egg yolk pigmentation..

Hoechst in the McSpotlight
Hoechst AG D-6230 Frankfurt 80, Postfach 80 03 20, Germany

Hoechst-Roussel was on a list produced in 1990 by the US Generic Pharmaceutical Industry of companies accused of fraudulent and deceptive practices. Its Neo Melubrina (diyrone) painkiller was sold over-the-counter in Mexico despite the fact that dipyrone is banned or severely restricted in developed countries because of the risk of the potentially fatal side effects, agranulocytosis (lack of white blood cells) and shock. Hoechst is the largest manufacturer of dipyrone and introduced it in 1992.

Hoechst has also been criticised for recommending dipyrone for trivial pains. It recommended it for: influenza in March 1988 in Thailand: pains, fever and spasms in Africa in March 1989; muscular rheumatism in the Philippines in April 1988; pain and fever in India in February 1988; fever, lumbago, sciatica, influenza and cold in Brazil in 1988.

Hoechst markets the organotin molluscide Brestan in the Philippines, to control the over-proliferated Golden Apple Snail. It can be a serious health hazard, with reports of finger and toenails peeling off, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, burns and blindness. Despite its banning in the Philippines in mid-1990 by the Food & Pesticides Authority, it was reported in February 1991 that 20 women had been found dead in fields recently sprayed with Brestan.

In 1991, the US FDA fined Hoechst $202,000 for failing to disclose that its anti-depressant drug, Nomifenine, had caused several deaths in Europe.

According to 1989 US EPA data, Hoechst Celanese was one of the leading releasers in the USA of known or suspected carcinogens. Hoechst has been targeted by German Greenpeace because of its continued production of CFCs. Hoechst relented and agreed to phase out their use by 1994 but replaced them with hydrocarbons which also destroy the ozone layer. Hoechst was reported in 1990 to be testing CFC substitutes on animals.

Residents in Pampa, Texas brought a lawsuit against Hoechst Celanese in 1990, alleging that toxic emissions from its plant caused near epidemic levels of leukaemia and Downs Syndrome.

Johnson & Johnson in the McSpotlight
One Johnson & Johnson Plaza, New Brunswick, NJ 08933, USA

Janssen Pharaceutica is the manufacturer of Hismanal, a widely prescribed antihistamine which is also available over-the-counter in Malaysia. A report in The Lancet 29/8/92, stated that Hismanal may have adverse reactions such as heart problems when the recommended does is exceeded or when it interacts with other drugs. Since July 1992, Janssen has been required to warn US doctors of its potential dangers, but Malaysian doctors have not been informed. In the USA, 13 deaths and 95 heart problems associated with the drug have been reported to the FDA.

McNeil was on a 1990 list submitted to the US Congress by the Generic Pharmaceutical Industry of companies accused of fraudulent and deceptive practices. It was accused of suppression of acute renal injury data associated with the use of Suprol (withdrawn in 1987), failure to disclose reports of severe/fatal renal damage with Flexin, Paraflex, and Triurate, and dismissal of researchers for refusing to withhold allergic reaction data on its analgesic Zomax (withdrawn 1983).

In 1990, Johnson & Johnson were criticised for their marketing of Imodium anti-diarrhoea drops to children in Pakistan. According to J&J, the drops were given to 19 infants. :There were side effects as a result of serious overdosing in these cases and six of these children died." J&J withdrew the drops from the Pakistan in March 1990 and undertook to withdrew them in other Third World countries.

Johnson and Johnson was the fifth largest user of animals in test in 1988 and the ninth largest user of animals without anaesthetic in tests considered painful.

Boots Plc in the McSpotlight
The Boots Co.: 1 Thane Road West, Nottingham NG2 3AA

Boots was subject to a boycott call due to it testing its drugs on animals. It has now sold the animal testing part of its business to BASF (known best for their video and audio tapes). Some of those involved in the Boots boycott claim that the campaign was a success but others point out that Boots are now selling products which are tested on animal by BASF and are therefore still subject to boycott.

In April 1993, Boots revealed that its heart drug, Manoplax, can lead to significantly higher mortality. Boots said that clinical trials showed that patients with severe congestive heart failure taking 100mg of Manoplax had a "significantly increased risk of death compared with those not receiving the drug". Manoplax was allegedly left on sale in the UK from September 1992 and in the USA from March 1993 until July 1993 when it was removed from sale. According to a statement from Boots, 'Withdrawal was voluntary and immediate'

Till 1994 Boots owned the Farley baby milk company (producers of Ostermilk, Ostersoy, Junior Milk) which was listed in 1991 as one of the six worst violators of the WHO Code on the marketing of baby milk substitutes. It promotes its baby milk in hospitals and to health workers in the Third World, and it gives out free samples. (For further information about the this issue, see McSpotlight on the Baby Milk Industry).

Boots is also subject to a boycott call by Friend of the Earth for its sale of tropical hardwood in its Do-It-All stores.

Credits: The information on this page was taken from
'the Ethical Consumer Guide to Everyday Shopping' by ECRA