Sunday, 8 June 2008

Taking the Piss

The following post (which is really just a republishing of an article courtesy of is dedicated to my bloggy friend Xbox4NappyRash (you need to visit his blog - for real!) and gratefully brought to my attention by my cuz Brendan.

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In homes, apartments, and shanties throughout Buenos Aires, thousands of graying women joyfully pee into plastic containers at all hours of the day.

It isn’t exactly the picture postcard image that Argentina’s Secretariat of Tourism wants spread around the globe.

Gauchos, mountain peaks, tango, Patagonia, steak – now that’s the stuff of travel brochures.
Yet at any given moment, there are thousands more 65-year-old matrons holding a piece of Tupperware between sagging thighs – silently praying that their hand is steady and aim direct – than tight-assed 20-year-olds twirling the Tango.

Properly aged piss, it turns out, is one of Argentina’s least-known but most-valued exports.

The liquid gold from the ripe bladders of post menopausal women has been helping “float” the Argentine economy by tens of millions of dollars a year for the last decade. Somewhere deep within the pungent molecules of senescent whiz – we’re clearly running out of original ways to say pee – is a high-value hormone used to combat infertility in younger women with ripe, but unwilling eggs.

“At first I said no,” explains a donor. “Now they bring me a little gift every month but I don’t donate it for that, but because it’s for a good cause, and if I’m going to flush it away anyway.”

For every 200,000 litres of post menopausal urine, one gram of the Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone 1 (GNRH1) can be extracted. This is a bit like evaporating a lake to get a glass of water.

It may take only an hour for three beers to pass through the bladder, but getting GNRH1 out of the pee is a four-month process. However, that one single, solitary gram can create around 2,000 doses of fertility promoting medication. It is in demand across the globe.

A study presented to the European Congress of Human Reproduction and Embryology found that more than five out of every 100 women with fertility difficulties treated with this hormone would successfully become pregnant, “which is clinically very significant,” affirms Anders Nyboe, the principal investigator of the study.

The drug works by the application of a “massive doses of follicles that stimulate the ovary to produce a great quantity of ovum,” explains Claudio Chillik, director of the Centre of Studies in Gynaecology and Reproduction. With a greater quantity of ovum (or egg cells) successful fertilisation is more likely to occur. A Swiss researcher figured this out in 1962. And we thought they only made chocolate.

Oh, and it also can work on men. About 1% to 2% of infertile men have a gonadotropin insufficiency. GnRH is an effective treatment for them too, helping turn recalcitrant sperm into Olympic champions. Get grandmother another beer!

It’s still dark in Buenos Aires, but the smell of morning is in the air. Birds are beginning to sing, delivery trucks are starting to roll, and men are picking up bottles of fresh piss from front stoops. Morning never smelled so profitable.

The urine collectors are from a company called Biomás. On any given day they will gather unknown quantities of plastic yellow-filled containers. The truck you pass on the way to work may be hauling hundreds of litres of tepid urine.

If trucks filled with urine left a trail they would lead you to the Instituto Massone. This is the collection point. The refinery. The place where urine goes in and hormones come out. Instituto Massone is the only Argentine laboratory to engage in the “dark art” of pee to hormone transformation.

It must be very profitable. Europe and the US form the principal market for the hormone of which Argentina is the world’s greatest exporter, satisfying more than 80% of the global market. The rest comes from China and Japan where, we can deduce, senior citizens just don’t have the same quality “right stuff”, as those from here in Buenos Aires.

Back we go to grandmother’s house. She is carefully snapping the lid on a container careful not to spill a drop. The great majority of donors belong to Buenos Aires’ middle classes, they’re over 60 years of age and retired. And, for taking the time and effort to fill the jug, they are paid nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Oh, they do get a lovely monthly gift. Well, it isn’t all that lovely. It is actually worth almost nothing. You see, there is this little law in Argentina that prevents ‘the commercialisation of parts and materials of the human body” which would make any form of official payment for the urine illegal. So, to stay within the law, Biomás hands out household goods ranging from breakfast trays to juice jugs. Apparently the juice jugs are recyclable, if you know what we mean.

Why do elderly women go to all this trouble for kitchen trinkets? The most common response that donors give is that ‘it helps women that cannot have children’. Although there are sometimes other, less obvious, incentives: “I like to donate because it’s like helping. They greet me…and that’s nice, above all for me because I live alone,” says another donor.

Not all of the women are completely sure of what the future might hold for their unconventional donations once they make their last deposit and put the drum out on the front porch before turning in to bed. “They explained to me that it was for medicines and for creams, I think, I don’t remember,” confesses one of the donors, aged 70.

The future of this potentially colossal market leads to some fabulous mental images: makeshift hollow stools amongst a daily vegetable market where elderly women display clusters of yellow vials. They take turns calling out their individual GNRH1 counts and prices per litre.
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So if pee could potentially be worth as much as this, I guess the old phrase 'golden shower' has a whole new connotation!


Baino June 08, 2008 9:32 pm  

Pissing myself laughing right now despite the hangover this morning! At least we post menopausal bags have something constructive to offer our younger counterparts! I'm now considering a burgeoning industry in rather large crotchless knickers!

Quickroute June 08, 2008 9:58 pm  

Baino: Glad I could bring a smile to your hungover face! - Better patent that crotchless panties idea pronto!

Shaunj June 09, 2008 5:38 am  

I think I am beginning to fall in love with this country..

Quickroute June 09, 2008 10:55 am  

Shaunj: No shortage of blog material - that's for sure!

Nick June 09, 2008 12:33 pm  

It seems an awful lot of effort just to (possibly) cure infertility. Wouldn't it be easier to adopt? There are thousands of unwanted and orphaned kids out there.

Quickroute June 09, 2008 12:58 pm  

Nick: I asked a similar question recently but it seems a lot of people are determined to conceive one of their own (same genes and all that) and use adoption as a last resort.

Megan June 09, 2008 1:14 pm  

Wow. Just, wow. It's amazing the kind of things I am learning since beginning to blog.

I told my mom she should start a collection center at her complex. She didn't think that was funny...

Quickroute June 09, 2008 4:57 pm  

Megan: Tell her "Pee Pays!" and she'll change her mmind!

Xbox4NappyRash June 09, 2008 5:59 pm  

I'm not sure I should be humbled or horrified at that dedication!

But thanks very much regardless ;0)

@Nick - I know it's almost a funny old piece, but infertility currently affects 1 in 6 couples, expected to rise to 1 in 4 within 20 years.

I'm fairly certain that those 17-25% of couples wouldn't see it as 'just' possibly curing infertility.

...Mines a pint!

Quickroute June 09, 2008 6:26 pm  

Xbox: The dedication intentions were sincere, I promise! The blog post title may not have been so flattering in hindsight!

VE June 09, 2008 6:29 pm  

How about we drop the middleman and just pee directly on the infertile person...

Quickroute June 09, 2008 6:37 pm  

VE: Novel idea - How big is your bladder? You need 200,000 litres of pee to produce just 1 gram of this hormone!

Xbox4NappyRash June 09, 2008 7:05 pm  

I suppose actually the title couldn't be more apt!

Anonymous,  June 10, 2008 7:10 pm  

OMG this is to funny!!

Quickroute June 10, 2008 7:46 pm  

Nature Lover: Welcome! - and glad you got a giggle!

Thriftcriminal June 11, 2008 2:38 am  

Wee has had a lot of uses:

Quickroute June 11, 2008 12:29 pm  

Thriftcriminal: That blokes laboratory must've smelt like a lavatory!

Queen Goob June 11, 2008 1:39 pm  

I rarely state this but.....I couldn't come up with a smarmy comment - I'm speechless - not a thing to say - other than VE has one HELL of a bladder!

Quickroute June 11, 2008 3:04 pm  

Queen of Goob:True - it must be the size of a swimming pool!

Queen Of Clean June 12, 2008 8:43 am  

I seriously don't feel very well now just thinking about all that wee wee.

Quickroute June 12, 2008 11:27 am  

Queen of CleanI know it's like a rather nauseos wee-fest!

RED MOJO June 16, 2008 11:18 am  

This is some very interesting stuff quickroute. I had no idea.

Quickroute June 16, 2008 11:35 am  

Red Mojo: Glad you like it

Travel Forum June 16, 2008 11:10 pm  

That is without a doubt the most interesting & strange thing I've read about today and in fact, probably this week.

Quickroute June 17, 2008 12:23 am  

Travel Forum: I aim to not to splash - wait... no.. i mean I aim to please!

Amy,  October 26, 2012 1:19 pm  

Well this answers my question about how they get the urine of menopausal women to make my fertility drugs! This is the only place I've been able to find an answer!

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