Opinion: Shutting the stable door

The food industry may have been sullied by the horsemeat scandal, but the pharma sector should not be complacent

Hilary Ayshford
Managing Editor

The ramifications of the discovery of horse and pig DNA in processed beef products in the UK have now spread across most of Europe. Even though the the public’s objections are emotional rather than health-related, governments have promised radical action to eliminate the problem at its root. These include spot-checks at abattoirs and processing plants as well as analysis of final products – measures that, it could be argued, are probably long overdue in the food industry.

After all, if a supplier can mix up beef and horsemeat, either deliberately or accidentally, then serious questions should be asked about their entire hygiene, QA/QC, and traceability procedures.

These are areas that have been strictly controlled and enforced in the pharmaceutical sector for many years, but drug manufacturers cannot afford to sit back feeling smug at the discomfiture of the food industry.

Warning letters have recently been issued by the US FDA to two highly reputable European pharma companies for cGMP violations. Novo Nordisk and Hameln Pharmaceuticals have both been found wanting where their procedures are concerned for preventing microbiological contamination of sterile drug products.

Add to this the small but growing quantities of counterfeit and adulterated medicines that end up in the legitimate pharmaceutical supply chain, and it becomes clear that even the most stringent controls can be circumvented.

If the message to the food industry is “Be sure your sins will find you out”, then pharmaceutical manufacturers should remember that only those who are without sin may cast the first stone.

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