The Multinational Monitor


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For the first time in the history of American advertising, prescription drugs are being shown on a television commercial.

Last month John Bryer, president of Boots Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Shreveport, Louisiana, appeared on television in front of a blackboard promoting the drug Rufen as a cheap, effective remedy against arthritis. The commercial was aired in Tampa, Florida five times a day for several days until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered Boots to drop the ad. The FDA charged the company with making false representations about the anti-arthritis drug, arguing that a 30-second TV time slot is insufficient time to seriously discuss the side effects of the drug or other available treatments.

Boots skirted the FDA injunction by producing a new commercial which doesn't mention what the drug is used for and makes no claims for its effectiveness. Instead, the new advertisement merely claims that Rufen is identical to a more expensive drug sold under the brand name of Motrin, marketed by the Upjohn Company. The reason Motrin is a top seller, Bryer contends, is because doctors don't worry about the patients' incomes and generally prescribe costly drugs. The new commercial resumed airing in Tampa on June 6.

Traditionally drug makers have only advertised over-the-counter drugs, leaving prescription drugs to doctors' discretion.

In response to the American Medical Association's call for more discussion of side-effects, the Ciba-Geigy Corporation of New Jersey suggested to the FDA that a toll-free number be included in the advertisement for the public to phone for advice and information.

Consumer groups are skeptical of such solutions and of the whole notion of direct-to-consumer drug advertising. According to Eve Bargmann of the Health Research Group in Washington, D.C., "the information consumers need has to be complete, has to be balanced, and has to be the product of someone other than the drug industry."

It is doubtful, she contends, that drug manufacturers - who fought and won the right to withhold FDA-approved informational leaflets in packaged drugs on the ground that it is too costly - will provide enough truthful information about a drug's potency or harmful side-effects in a TV commercial or phone call.

"Bloody Coffee"

One placard showed the familiar coffee canister, its "Maxwell House Coffee" label alongside the downturned coffee cup logo. But below, the words "Make This Your Last Drop" replaced the usual slogan for the General Foods product. Other pickets announced "General Foods Aids Death in Central America" and "General Foods Buys Bloody Coffee."

These signs and others were paraded by demonstrators in front of 28 General Foods Corporation warehouses and processing plants stretching from New Mexico to Montreal on May 13 and 14. The simultaneous protests launched a campaign aimed at pressuring the corporation to stop buying coffee from El Salvador and Guatemala. Coordinated by Global Justice, a church--affiliated group based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the campaign grew out of a successful effort to stop Western Airlines from flying Salvadoran refugees back to their country.

Coffee is the primary source of revenue for the governments of both El Salvador and Guatemala. By nationalizing coffee marketing, over half of the revenue from the sale of Salvadoran coffee now goes directly to the government - $268 million in 1980. Over one - third of the revenue from the sale of coffee goes directly to the Guatemalan government through its steep coffee export tax netting it $155 million in 1980.

Fully one-third of all Salvadoran and Guatemalan coffee is imported by the U.S., although together the shipments account for less than 10 percent of total U.S. coffee purchases.

Global Justice has targeted General Foods Corporation because it is the world's largest coffee distributor, controlling 43 percent of the U.S. coffee market. As Ann Loretan, a spokesperson for the May vigils, explains, "By purchasing coffee from El Salvador and Guatemala, General Foods is providing these governments with millions of dollars which they are using to finance the war against their own people."

The campaign was initiated only after General Foods rejected a formal petition by stockholder and Global Justice member Sister Mary Rose Meyer to discuss the matter. A General Foods executive defended his company's buying practices in a reply to Sister Meyer, saying, "General Foods does not and cannot have all the facts at its disposal to determine the appropriateness or inappropriateness of continued relations with these or any other countries."

For more information, contact Global Justice, 1107 Edith S. E., Albuquerque, NM 87102, (505)842-6126.

Pesticide tug-of-war in Brazil

Landmark legislation aimed at banning and controlling the use of certain hazardous pesticides was recently passed by the regional legislature in Rio Grande de Sul, a state in southern Brazil. But the Brazilian agrochemical industry, representing many U.S.-based multinationals, is threatening to undo the gains.

Adoption of the law followed the discovery of a large amount of pesticides in area water supplies. Community

leaders, elected officials, and the public had been alerted to the health and environmental dangers of pesticides largely through the efforts of the local office of the Pesticide Action Network, an international educational and activist organization. The local group brought together activists and technical experts to draft legislation and together they recommended a ban on the use of organochlorine pesticides. These chemicals-DDT is one example-are less immediately toxic than other chemicals, but are more harmful in the long run because they build up in the fatty tissue of humans and animals and are very persistent in the environment.

The proposed legislation passed unanimously in the state congress and received the endorsement of the state governor.

However, the Brazilian agrochemical association has acted quickly to fight the law. It has mounted a public relations campaign to block the legislation and has initiated three separate lawsuits in an effort to get the law declared unconstitutional. The association lists among its members the subsidiaries of many multinational giants, including CibaGeigy, Diamond Shamrock, Dow, DuPont, Exxon, Union Carbide, Uniroyal, and Upjohn.

The unfriendliest bank

At Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, telephone greetings are strictly business.

Employees at the New York bank are encouraged to keep casual informality out of their telephone manner. A visitor recently came across a Morgan telephone directory that opens with the following reproval to employees: "Avoid saying `hello.' This elsewhere pleasant and familiar greeting is out of place in the world of business." Instead, the directory instructs, "identify yourself, such as `bookkeeping department, Miss Smith speaking'."

- Source: Wall Street Journal, 4/25/83

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