How Long Till They Have a Glatt Kosher Version of the Rx That Costs More?

The OU reports:

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) today announced that the Orthodox Union (OU) has granted kosher certification to ELELYSO™ (taliglucerase alfa) for injection, an enzyme replacement therapy (ERT) for the long-term treatment of adults with a confirmed diagnosis of Type 1 Gaucher disease. ELELYSO is the first prescription medication to be certified kosher by the OU, a milestone for the brand which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in May 2012……

Said Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of OU Kosher. “In a life or death situation, Jewish law clearly sets aside the kosher status of a prescription medicine, but in other cases, it is preferable and sometimes recommended that a medicine be certified kosher.

Huh? Gaucher disease is a life or death situation. Without the enzyme treatment it shortens life. According to the National Institute of Health:

Enzyme replacement therapy is available for most people with types 1 and 3 Gaucher disease. Given intravenously every two weeks, this therapy decreases liver and spleen size, reduces skeletal anomalies, and reverses other symptoms of the disorder, including abnormal blood counts. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved taliglucerase alfa for long-term enzyme replacement in people with type 1 Gaucher disease.)

DovBear asks: “I honestly cannot understand why an item that cannot be eaten or drunk and is not for use in food preparation, serving, or clean-up needs to have a hechsher (rabbinic seal certifying that it’s kosher). If someone would kindly explain this to me, I’d appreciate it.”

The answer is simple. The OU has moved from a service to help kosher consumers into a business that will sell its hashgachah to any company it can convince to buy it.

Pfizer is competing with other  enzyme replacement drug treatments for this condition, whose average cost  per patient is $200,000 a year, for life!

The kosher industry has done absurd things like certifying toilet bowl cleaner and toilet paper. One has to admire these entrepreneurs that cover the GI tract from one end to the other. But give me a break.

This sort of shameless hucksterism is making savvy folks more cynical about kosher certification. The “kosher nostra” meme is being fed by this narishkeit. At the same time, less halachically informed people aspiring to the highest levels of observance are  paying extra.

UPDATE 5/25/14:

I posted on FaceBook:

Kosher Madness Contest!

We now have kosher certification on toilet paper, toilet bowl cleaner, and injectible life-saving medicines.

CHALLENGE: come up with the most absurd new terrain for the kosher certifying agency. Bonus points for ingenious absurd rationales. Winner is the one who racks up the most “likes.”

Feel free to join the fray (103 comments and counting, after just 2 hours)

See also:


28 thoughts on “How Long Till They Have a Glatt Kosher Version of the Rx That Costs More?

  1. This is as bizarre as it gets. I am forwarding this post to “the smartest guy in the room” a top pharma phd mod orth guy, the smartest and the best, and with yeshiva background. Fear he will totally mock the issue, nevertheless……if he has any words of wisdom, i will repeat them here. yeah, i can just hear him now annhiliating those,,,,,,

  2. will rabbi belsky push for certification of pfizers Viagra especially considering that his followers such as the kolkos need his certification

  3. The @OU must explain this “first.” This isn’t just the first hechsher on a serious medication but an open big business deal with #pharma. Pfizer can’t make a dime on the RX unless it finds the correct population, Ashkenazi Jews. Who, for a price, can sell this specific info to Pfizer, along with shuls likely to reach Ashkenazim? Money is surely more important here that ANY need for a hechsher! Are there ANY Rabbis remaining whom we can seriously trust? @OU and Rabbi Weinreb, kindly explain w/o using the word “preferable.” Your followers know this is a start of new nonsense. Will you now review ALL serious prescriptions along with toilet bowl cleansers?

    • The money in Gaucher’s Disease is incredible. Those with the condition must have this enzyme or the disease which is incurable will eventually disable or even kill them. I know someone whose annual Rx bill for this enzyme (happily fully covered by insurance) is about $400,000. So it is easy to see why Pfizer does not mind spending a bit for a hashgachah.

  4. It appears that this kosher-certified product is a plant derivative. If that is the case, kudos to the marketing division of OU for convincing Pfizer to pay money for this.
    Next: selling the Brooklyn Bridge, or at least certifying that is kosher

  5. My expert who I mentioned above, , writes back, kacha “Genak. Genug (accent over the u) schoen. If not consumed for food, kashrut does not apply. You can consume pig derived medicines if you need them. Insulin….”
    Full disclosure, he was only Yeshiva of Flatbush. No Lakewood.
    Frankly i do not understand the two yiddish words. but the rest of the readers will, no doubt.
    Hope this contributes to this quintessential quandary in the charedi world.

  6. It is true that only the actual eating of a forbidden substance is prohibited. However it is thought that the ingestion or introduction of forbidden substances to the body is not religiously advisable. Even though jewish law does not prohibit it, it is thought the forbidden substance ‘messes up’ and gums up the body from a religious and holiness point of view. A hechsher on an injectable, allows even those most careful about all substances entering their body by whatever means, will provide those people with complete confidence in taking the medication.

    • You are ignoring the fact that even non-kosher substances, when sufficiently transformed by chemical and other processes, stop being considered non-kosher substances. Hence the ruling allowing the eating of gelatin formed from bones of non kosher animals, and considering it pareve, even in products like marshmallows where it is a major ingredient. In almost all cases, modern injectable pharmaceuticals are, in effect, kosher pareve substances.

      You are probably referring to episodes where as a vort, and not as a matter of halacha, undesirable effects were atrtributed to using skin ointments for pleasure and comfort which had untransformed non-kosher lard.

      Moreover, those were not cases of pikuach nefesh. People with Gauchers disease suffer major problems and die decades earlier if they do not get an enzyme to replace the one their bodies do not produce.

  7. As long as there are customers willing to pay a premium for products with unnecessary Kashrus certification, there will be manufacturers willing to pay for that certification.
    In Israel, the Badat”z Eidah, after declaring that certain products didn’t need a Hechsher, due to customer and manufacturer demand made a new symbol for these products which instead of the normal ‘Under the supervision of Badatz…’, says ‘Approved on Behalf of Badatz…’

  8. You chaleriyas are always making mountains out of mole hills. Did it ever dawn on to that the company called the OU and ASKED fire hashgocha?

    Quit being such a self hating jew. There are enough already.

    • Those you dare (as a “Shomer Torah..blah, blah..) call “chaleriyas” simply want an answer from @ OU. It dawned upon ME that @Pfizer needed the names of Ashkenazi Jews so it could sell the new injections. @Pfizer and other mouthwashes and lots of soaps are kosher. Kindly use one to wash your mouth (and mind) with.

    • You reminded me of a joke:

      Harvey goes to Rabbi Meckler and asks him to circumcise his dog, Rover. Rabbi says, “no way.” Guy says, “Fine, I will let Rabbi G, up the block circumcise Rover and get my $25k donation.”

      Rabbi Meckler: “Wait a second, you didn’t tell me the dog was Jewish!”

      • Reminds me of the famous joke of the guy who wants his Rabbi to make him a Kohen. and keeps on raising the anti, and rabbi keeps on refusing, saying impossible, he cannot do it.. FINALLY, when he hits a bid of 10 million, the Rabbi relents, and agrees to “make him a Kohen”. He then asks Chaim why it is so important to him to become a Kohen, to which he retorts “well my grandfather was a Kohen and my father was a Kohen…….”

  9. I don’t know anything about this particular deal. But I know at least two kosher agencies that repeatedly tell companies that non-food items don’t require hechsher. The companies almost always reply that their marketing departments tell them that the product will sell better with the hechsher. I assume you know that most people who look for a hechsher on food products aren’t even Jewish. I assume this is a residue of the old Hebrew National ad campaign but I am not really sure of that. In any event, since most of these firms are also customers of the supervising agencies for products that do need hechshers, so the agencies give it in the end if the companies really want it.

    This medicine may be different as I don’t think Pfizer makes food products and the medicine is for a disease mostly affecting Jews.

    I agree with you that these products don’t need hechshers. But I am pretty sure the demand for them comes from consumers, both Jewish and not, who prefer products with hechshers, even those that don’t need them.

    • It is possible that Pfizer approached the OU but they could have said no. For that matter, any other hashgachah can and should say no. The OU prides itself on educating the public about kosher. In fact I would argue that a hashgachah to gives out a needless certification in response to company demand may not be trustworthy. Lets face it, usually the pressure from the company is to get away with something that reduces costs and the certifier needs to hold the line if they cannot find a legitimate halachic solution. If they give into company pressures for the sake of their commercial relationship, sooner or later they are setting a pattern that may lead them to compromise kosher standards.

      The OU is the largest, most influential and most profitable kosher certifier in the world. If they sell the idea of covering any and everything, it will be harder for lesser hashgachas to resist the pressure. Corporate America will also respect kosher standards if they understand that the agencies cannot be pushed around for meaningless marketing hype.

  10. I’m going to set up what is, given the issue of pikuach nefesh, a straw man: Does that fact that this medicine is made from Israeli-grown produce have any bearing?

    That being asked, I think the argument that there are consumers who are going to prefer a product with a hechsher carries the most weight. Unfortunately, the hashgacha agencies don’t educate the consumer to REFRAIN from demanding one.

    A side note: our store briefly carried a brand of orange juice whose carton proudly trumpeted it had FIVE hechsherim. My response: surely you can find ONE among them that you find unacceptable.

    • The product is so chemically transformed that I doubt its origin has any halachic significance in either being vegetable (rather than mammal) in origin or in terms of os shmita.

  11. Pingback: From the Archives for Purim- New Insane Kosher Certifications – SATIRE, Introduction by LostMessiah | LOSTMESSIAH

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