JUNE 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 6
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
The Ciba-Geigy Corporation sold a pesticide containing DDT, which has been banned for agricultural use in virtually every industrialized country, to Tanzanian cotton farmers until December 1990. Ciba-Geigy's sale of "Ultracide combi," a pesticide designed for cotton plants, violated guidelines established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization as well as Ciba-Geigy's own stated policy of not selling products banned in industrialized countries to the Third World.
Die Weltwoche, a weekly newspaper based in Switzerland, reported in May 1991 that Ciba-Geigy's European Agricultural Division sold the pesticide to Tanzania as the last part of a shipment delayed by payment problems. A memo from Ciba-Geigy stated that the company decided to stop selling products containing DDT by the end of 1990, and "in a purely formal respect the release of the last batch of the Tanzanian order in May 1990 was thus justifiable." The memo acknowledged, however, that the company "should have refrained" from making the last delivery.
Ciba-Geigy is now attempting to buy back the pesticide from the Tanzanian Marketing Board, a parastatal organization which buys agricultural equipment for small farmers. Much of the pesticide has already been distributed, however. According to Rolf Immler of Ciba-Geigy's Agricultural Division, the company is trying to locate unused batches of the chemical and bring them back to Switzerland because Tanzania does not have facilities for the disposal of DDT.
U.S. pharmaceutical company Eli Lillyis once again under attack for selling a potentially deadly product.
The product is Prozac, introduced in 1988 and now one of the best selling antidepressants in the United States. Prozac is expected to earn Eli Lilly $1.1 billion in 1991 and has been accepted for use in more than 50 countries. It has been an effective drug for many clinically depressed people and does not produce some of the negative side effects, such as weight gain and sedation, associated with other antidepressants. Doctors are prescribing the drug for the mildly depressed, patients addicted to smoking and those with eating disorders.
Despite the drug's popularity, approximately 12,400 cases of adverse psychological reactions to the drug have been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Lilly faces 75 lawsuits alleging that Prozac caused suicidal and homicidal tendencies. Use of the drug has been offered as an insanity defense in several criminal cases and is suspected by some to be a cause of a 1990 shooting spree in Louisville, Kentucky, where a man taking Prozac killed himself and eight former coworkers.
Public Citizen's Health Research Group (HRG), a Washington, D.C.-based health advocacy group, has petitioned the FDA to require printed warnings on Prozac. The suggested warning would state that patients on Prozac "have experienced intense, violent, suicidal thoughts, agitation, and impulsivity" and that "patients are advised to consider alerting relatives and friends to their use of fluoxetine (Prozac) and the risk of suicidal obsession and self-injurious behavior." Dr. Ida Hellander, staff member at HRG, says the organization is not calling for a ban because the drug has some important advantages over other antidepressants.
Eli Lilly spokesperson Gerianne Hap claims the suggested warning is "unfounded and unnecessary." The company claims that "there is no credible evidence in the medical literature that Prozac causes increased suicidal thinking or suicidal actions."
Many U.S. social and environmental programs may be scrapped as "unfair barriers to trade" if the current round of negotiations of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is successfully completed. A recent European Community (EC) document, "Report on United States Trade Barriers and Unfair Practices 1991," describes small and minority business set asides and US. fuel-efficiency requirements, among other programs, as unfair barriers which the EC hopes to challenge under existing or proposed rules of trade.
Since European small businesses are not likely to bid on U.S. government contracts and set asides prohibit large companies from receiving a certain portion of contracts, the EC argues that the program discriminates against European corporations.
The EC also targeted U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards which require the average fuel efficiency of all cars sold by an automaker in the country to meet certain standards. Since many European automakers only market large cars in the United States, they are forced to pay a penalty.
The EC report generated an outcry. U.S. Representatives Maxine Waters, D-CA, and Esteban Torres, D-CA, warned colleagues: "Many of us have labored long and hard to see that minority-owned business get a fair share of contracting opportunities.... Now negotiators who may or may not be sympathetic to these set-aside programs are in a position to determine their fate."
Alex Hittle, International Coordinator of the Washington, D.C.-based Friends of the Earth denounced the EC's attack on CAFE standards, saying, "The EC hit list confirms our worst fears. Vast areas of environmental law hang in the balance at the GATT negotiations."
— Jim Sugarman