Following the piece I posted earlier this week on the Coalition government’s plans to sell off the UK’s plasma supplies to a private US company, a reader has sent me a link to a really shocking story that I wasn’t aware of before, about a similar phenomenon in the United States which deserves wider attention.
Written by Mark Ames at Alternet five years ago, the story is a bleak and symptomatic symbol of the world that we have constructed, and a reminder that there is really nothing that some companies won’t do to make a profit, especially when no government is willing to do anything to stop them.
Ames describes how the Wall Street hedgefund/private equity company Cerberus Capital made a $1.8 billion profit from extracting and reselling plasma from the poor to the poor. This is how it was done. In 2006 Cerberus paid $82.5 million for a company called Talecris, which operates a number of ‘plasma-milking factories’ on the American side of the US-Mexico border.
These ‘factories’ were advertised on the Mexican side of the border, and located in ‘plasma-farm buses’ on the American side, where poor Mexican migrants were paid $30 dollars to hook up to a machine which drained their blood to sift out their plasma, before the blood was re-pumped back into their veins.
The plasma was then sold, according to Ames, to ‘ the most desperately ill—patients suffering from hemophilia, severe burns, multiple sclerosis and autoimmune deficiencies’ in a US market where plasma costs are so high that ‘ American health insurance companies have been dropping or denying their policyholders in increasing numbers.’
In 2009, Cerberus Plasma Holdings LLC/Talecris opened four new ‘farms’ along the Mexican border that netted a $1.2 billion profit on its original investment. Since Ames wrote that story, Cerberus has sold Talecris to the Barcelona-based Spanish company Grifols SA for $3.4 billion – a sale that has been challenged by the Federal Trade commission (FTC) as a violation of US anti-trust laws.
As a result Grifols has been obliged to sell off some of its plasma holdings to satisfy the commission and open the market to competition. All these wheelings and dealings have resulted from the transformation of a ‘product’ that ought to be an essential and protected resource into another speculative investment.
In the UK at least, the nation’s plasma supply was protected – until the Coalition decided to sell it to Mitt Romney’s former company Bain Capital. According to the Independent, the Department of Health ‘ overlooked several healthcare or pharmaceutical firms and at least one blood plasma specialist before choosing to sell an 80 per cent stake in Plasma Resources UK’ to Bain – a private equity and hedgefund company worth $65 billion whose sole interest in its new company will be making money out of it and then re-selling it.
And where will that plasma come from? Well it probably won’t be from Mitt Romney or David Cameron’s veins – though if they or any of the other plutocrats and their political servants who are currently running the world ever have a car crash – they might just need it.