Zyklon-B, the gas used to kill Jews in the concentration camps

RU-486: Upholding the Company Tradition

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RU-486 is a drug that is used to cause abortions early in pregnancy. The idea is that taking a pill is easier than a surgical procedure.

There's an interesting corporate history behind this pill.

RU-486 was invented by Roussel-Uclaf, the French subsidiary of a German company, Hoescht. (That's where the "RU" in the name comes from: Roussel-Uclaf. The "486" is because it is their 486th product.) During World War II, a German company called I. G. Farben made the poison gas that was used to kill Jews in the concentration camps. After the war, to punish Farben the Allies broke it up into three companies. One of these was Hoescht.1

When the Food & Drug Administration approved RU-486 for use in the United States, there was a problem: Neither Hoescht nor any other existing pharmaceutical company could be found that was willing to produce or distribute this drug in the U.S. Some refused to be involved in abortion for moral reasons. Others were concerned about boycotts or other backlash from pro-life groups. So a new company was formed specifically for the purpose of distributing this one drug: Danco Laboratories.

But Danco had no manufacturing facilities to actually produce the drug, and building such facilities from scratch would be difficult and expensive. So they still had to find someone to really make the pills. When they found a candidate, the FDA took the unprecedented step of keeping the identify of this manufacturer secret.

But an investigative reporter for the Washington Post managed to find out who the manufacturer was: the Hua Lian Pharmaceutical Company in red China.2 This discovery raised some question about the FDA's reasons for keeping it secret. They said they did this to protect the manufacturer from protests by anti-abortionists. But anti-government protests are not allowed in China, and it is difficult to imagine Americans travelling to China for such a protest. Opponents suggested that the real reason was to avoid questions about the purity -- and therefore safetly -- standards of the Chinese factory: factories run by communist governments do not have a good reputation for quality. Or perhaps they were seeking to protect Danco from the emabrassment of being associated with the people who brought you the massacre at Tianamen Square.


1. Mattera, Philip. “Corporate Profile: Hoechst” http://multinationalmonitor.org/hyper/issues/1992/05/mm0592_11.html. Accessed 31 Jul 2004.

2. Pan, Philip. "FDA Has Sought To Shield Source Of Abortion Drug" Washington Post. 12 Oct 2000.

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Posted 22 Aug 2004.

Copyright 2004 by Pregnant Pause
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