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Targeting children's minds; stymying Indian reform

Bayer logo

Conan under a Creative Commons Licence

Two articles on the pharmaceutical industry arrived on my computer one after another.

The first was a diatribe about Bayer, from the Coalition against Bayer Dangers. It succinctly points out a shocking new development: many drug companies are now using a sustained, planned, concerted effort to creep insidiously into targeting schoolchildren. The modus operandi, the Coalition says, is to use seemingly innocuous material to subtly influence children’s minds.

‘For example,’ the press release states, ‘Bayer operates a mobile chemistry laboratory ‘to make the subject more appealing’ to young people. They also offer training days for teachers, and teaching materials free of charge, especially concerning controversial subjects such as bee mortality and genetic engineering. Each year, the company distributes about half a million euros to schools close to its sites.’

The press release continues: ‘Bayer subsidiary Currenta has now gone one step further and has extended its marketing to young children. The company commissioned an illustrator to produce a hidden object book depicting the cheerful hustle and bustle of a chemicals factory: crane drivers, divers, visitors from all over the world, clowns and colourful balloons. Currenta is currently distributing the book in the vicinity of the German Bayer sites. The book was given to kindergartens at Christmas.’

‘It is a scandal,’ says Philipp Mimkes from the Coalition, ‘that Currenta and Bayer are invading the sheltered kindergarten environment. Young children cannot understand the risks of chemical factories and are defenceless against corporate propaganda. We’re demanding an effective ban on all forms of advertising in educational establishments.’ The Coalition has introduced a countermotion to the upcoming Bayer shareholder meeting.

Thimo Schmitt-Lord from the Bayer Science & Education Foundation freely admits that the company is not driven by altruism. ‘I have to admit that our support for schools is not entirely altruistic,’ he says. ‘We view it as a long-term investment.’

Norbert Hocke, a board member of the German teaching union GEW, criticized Bayer’s marketing. He points out: ‘This book does not belong in a kindergarten. It is high time we had regulations for dealing with advertising.’ Especially in light of current results of brain research. Hocke views Bayer’s propaganda critically. ‘We must be especially careful with children aged between 0 and 6. The frequent repetition of company logos stays in their heads for a lifetime. Later on, we wonder why and complain that children are so focused on brands.’

Closer to home, the Indian Supreme Court dismissed two important appeals for an urgent reform of India’s drug regulatory framework.

Successive reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) found an alarmingly high rate of substandard medicines being prescribed in publicly funded programmes such as the Central Government Health Scheme (CGHS) and the Railway Hospitals and Armed Forces Medical Stores Depots (AFMSD). In short, European companies have been dumping sub-standard drugs banned in their own countries on an unsuspecting Indian public. Our markets are also flooded with sub-standard drugs made in India.

Both Dr Katoch and Dr Roychowdhury’s Expert Committee recommendations were ignored. The latter strongly recommended making mandatory basic quality testing, such as bioequivalence studies for all generic drugs. Curiously, while the Drug Consultative Committee (DCC) insisted India did not have the infrastructure to do the testing, it felt testing drugs scheduled for export to Western countries must be mandatory. So, one standard for Indians, another for Western countries! Discrimination by our own authorities.

Dinesh Thakur, who filed the public interest litigation, has impeccable credentials. He is the Executive Chair of Medassure Global Compliance Corporation and resigned from Ranbaxy after discovering unethical practices there. He was the whistle blower whose startling disclosures led to a case ending with penalties of $500 million on Ranbaxy. More importantly, it also led to an increased scrutiny by the USFDA and other foreign regulators.

We wish Dinesh Thakur and the German Coalition success. May they continue their battle against the corrupt and the venal, for the sake of future generations.

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