Monday, April 20, 2009

Canary in the Coal Mine; Why Everyone Should Be Concerned Over the Death of Polo Ponies in Florida

By Alan Clock, Senior Vice President, XStream Systems, Inc.
Back in the days before high tech ventilation and gas detectors, one of coal mining’s earliest tools for detecting dangerous levels of methane gas in a mine shaft was a canary. Basically if the bird died, miners had to get out the shaft, quickly.

In a tragic 21st century adaptation of this low tech scenario, last Sunday in Florida, 21 polo ponies died from what is being initially reported as injections believed to be of a steroid derivative potentially contaminated with a toxin. Details are still sketchy and forensic tests are being conducted but this was not a random or unfortunate mistake of spoiled feed or un-potable water, but likely an unintentional mass poisoning at the hands of trained animal healthcare professionals through medications.

According to published reports, apparently prior to the incident, shots were injected by a Team Veterinarian and are suspected to be the cause of this toxic reaction and heart failure in these horses. It is still not clear as to why and for what purpose the horses were receiving the injection.

Bear in mind that these horses are some of the most pampered equines on the planet. Their diet and exercise are closely monitored and regulated by their very demanding owners. Most polo ponies live and receive a higher level of care than 95% of the world’s human population. Their average value is well over $100,000 each, which make this a $2.1m tragedy presumably caused by contaminated product that was thought to enhance their health and performance.

Why is this important to humans? Much like the miners of long ago, we humans are basically sharing the medications literally and figuratively that are used on animals. Although not specifically shared, most of the raw materials and basic production of our medications are identical or the same. Similarly the value and supply chain of medications share many commonalities. Basically, if the high priced pampered pets of the rich can receive contaminated pharmaceuticals, so will humans.

Just like the heparin contamination that caused over 250 deaths in the United States last year, we should take heed of this equine tragedy and realize that our safety is in peril. The drugs that we consume must be protected and analyzed within their supply chain so that we have a level of confidence in the products we are taking to make us or keep us healthy. Not unlike the miners of the 21st century, it is time to protect ourselves with modern technology instead of relying on a canary or in this case a polo pony to keep us safe.

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