The hunting with hounds’ bill still has problems though. Firstly it is being cynically used to pay off backbenchers and avoid scrutiny of the more pressing issue of British troops going to Afghanistan. Who in the absence of Al Quaida forces will be providing the US military with something to shoot at. Secondly, once fox hunting is abolished what is to be done with groups of hoorays that will still want to charge around on their horses? The answer to both these problems could be solved if instead of troops we dispatched the foxhunters to Afghanistan. After all it is the thrill of the chase they claim to enjoy. What could be more thrilling than galloping around the mountains and caves of bin Laden territory and calling in the terriers to dig out those pesky Taliban who burrow in.
The hunting hoorays would probably not be the first unwanted gifts fobbed onto the citizens of Afghanistan. It is likely that the US aid effort involves a practice known as "drug dumping," , where pharmaceutical companies manage to offload unsaleable stock as charitable donations.
"Drug dumping" has been around since the US tax laws made it profitable for pharmaceutical companies to "donate" their unwanted wares to the developing world, in return for tax credits. There are several formulas for calculating these tax credits but even the method that gives the smallest financial gain to the company still means they get to offset twice the cost of the drugs against tax. Given that the company would have to pay for the safe disposal of unwanted or unusable drugs in controlled and regulated incineration, the financial gains for "donations" start to mount up. So if a company has a product that isn’t selling well or they need the warehouse space it makes sense to donate.
In practice the tax laws have lead to large quantities of out of date, short dated or inappropriate drugs ending up in emergency zones. One of the most infamous cases was the dumping of appetite stimulants in a famine stricken Sudan. Short of flying to Sudan and gorging on a gourmet meal in front of families as they starved to death I can think of nothing that can compare to the contempt the donating company had for human life. The fact the US tax payer probably financed this corporate snuff side show adds insult to injury. Nor is this an isolated example. Bosnia had so much unwanted, short dated or inappropriate drugs dumped on them during the conflict that they had to pay out $34 million to build an incinerator to dispose of the pharmaceutical companies philanthropic impulses. When Kosovans fled the bombs, and attacks on their families and homes, to refugee camps in Albania the US drug companies must have skipped around their boardrooms in delight at the prospect of clearing their shelves once again. In the Albanian makeshift camps 10 tonnes of depilatory cream and haemorrhoid cream were dumped. Surely there is nothing a woman fleeing from murder mayhem and burning houses would want less than hair remover. Maybe I’m wrong and the human impulse to survive and protect offspring comes second to the removal of unwanted leg stumble and bikini line maintenance. If I am wrong let me be the first to offer my services to Amnesty Internationals forthcoming benefit for Immac Aid.
Short dated drugs are ones that can still be used, if they have been previously purchased but can not be sold in the US, they are between the sell by and expiry dates. These are a popular donation. Perhaps the biggest donation of this type was made by Eli Lilly and Co who sent six million Ceclor CD tablets, an antibiotic that had not received licensing in the US, to Rwanda. The tablets were past their sell by date, even if they had had a license to be sold. The company’s press release said "this is yet another example of Lilly’s commitment to giving , especially in times of human tragedy."
Last budget Gordon Brown announced a series of measures to improve the health of the developing world, including a tax credit scheme that would enable UK pharmaceuticals to offset donations against tax. Many will find the prospect of helping out some of the richest companies on earth dump their unwanted crap on the most vulnerable people on the earth sickening. To prevent this the companies should get no more than the cost of the drug in tax credits and the World Health Organisation guidelines on drug donations should be incorporated into the legislation. Brown should remember that it is easier to pass a good law than amend a bad one.
Also printed in The New Statesman. Mark Thomas is the Co-author of a War on Want report on drug dumping and also appears on Channel 4 show this Wednesday at 11pm.