September 4th, 2012 // 7:31 pm @ jmpickett
File this one under ‘hold your nose.’ A subsidiary of the Joincare Pharmaceutical Group reportedly used reprocessed cooking oil – otherwise known as ‘gutter’ oil – to make a widely used antibiotic in China. If the term gutter oil is unfamiliar, this refers to reprocessed oil made from kitchen waste dredged from gutters behind restaurants. The State Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the charge after media reports over the past several days, China Daily reports.
Why might gutter oil be purchased to produce antibiotics? The oil is cheaper than the more expensive soybean oil used to make 7-aminocephalosporinic acid, or 7-ACA, a chemical for produce cephalosporins. Joincare produces 25 percent of the total amount of the chemical, although up to a dozen other drugmakers may have purchased gutter oil from various suppliers, according to various Chinese media reports. For its part, Joincare reportedly denied using gutter oil.
The companies reportedly bought the recycled cooking oil from a company called Huikang Grease Co., which is facing prosecution over its alleged processing and selling of thousands of tons of gutter oil in 2010 and 2011. The Shanghai Daily reported that Huikang received around $22.5 million for roughly 14,700 tons of gutter oil sold to Jiaozuo Joincare Biological Product, a unit of Joincare.
This is only the latest scandal to rock the Chinese pharmaceutical industry. Last spring, the State Food and Drug Administration found that 254 pharmaceutical companies, or 12.7 percent of all capsule makers, turned out unsafe capsules in a month-long inspection. Of the 11,561 batches of drugs tested, 5.8 percent were found to contain excessive levels of chromium and the SFDA sought to blacklist some manufacturers .
The episodes underscore the difficulty the US FDA has in overseeing companies that play an integral role in the global supply chain. The recently passed Prescription Drug User Fee Act includes additional funding for the FDA to inspect manufacturing facilities in other countries, but the agency is not expected to have the sort of resources needed to sufficiently weed out such scams on a meaningful basis.