Representatives of the pharmaceutical industry have responded to letters sent by EPHA and partners urging the industry to make their global supply chains transparent and adopt environmentally responsible management practices. While a number of initiatives are being supported by industry, the problem remains that these are non-binding and fragmented. As manufacturers and suppliers, and nodes in a multi-billion industry, pharma companies must do more and push for mandatory standards and regulation.
In August 2015, EPHA together with consumer organisations SumOfUs and Ethical Consumer had sent letters to the chief executives of 19 multinational pharma companies asking them to stop buying active antibiotic ingredients (API) from polluting factories, ensure full transparency along the global supply chain, and promote cleaner production techniques.
The issue was also debated at the recent event, ‘Pharma pollution: An ignored cause of AMR’ which gathered experts to discuss the global spreading of AMR via environmental pollution caused by unclean antibiotics manufacturing and excessive use in animal husbandry. Both activities lead to the infiltration of the environment with antibiotic waste ending up in groundwater and surface water, soil, manure and, ultimately, the bodies of humans and animals. It is a vicious circle since the presence of more antibiotics can lead to the development of more pervasive, multi-drug resistant ‘superbugs’.
In an Open Letter published by EFPIA, AESGP and EGA, representing the R&D, non-prescription and generic and biosimilar manufacturers in Europe, industry addressed the debate regarding Pharmaceuticals in the Environment, AMR and the manufacturing aspect, outlining a number of initiatives actively supported by them. These include the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Initiative and the Eco-Pharmaco-Stewardship framework, the latter being supported by an IMI project on identifying potential environmental risks of API, manufacturing effuents management and extending Environmental Risk Assessment. The letter expressly states that companies ”take seriously any negative environmental impacts that [their] products and manufacturing might have”, and that they ”support immediate action and global solidarity” when it comes to tackling the AMR problem. It also affirms their commitment to work with ”governments, regulators and international organisations to raise standards”.
While EPHA welcomes these statements, the fact remains that pharma factories, which tend to be located in third countries, are able to continue polluting the environment due to blatant regulatory gaps in those countries, where production is about producing cheaply and in huge quantities. Therefore, and as pointed out in an EPHA op-ed article released last week, it is important that companies with a genuine ambition to act do so now, before it is too late. As the world’s most serious health threat, AMR knows no boundaries and the consequences of dirty manufacturing processes can and will be felt globally.