200 Health Canada Scientists Speak Out

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison

Cancer is a political problem more than it is a medical problem.

"No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent." - Abraham Lincoln

 

Know your enemy 1, 2, 3, 4

 

Reprinted with permission from the February 2000 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5J 5B9

200 Hundred Health Canada Scientists Speak Out

 

by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

Over two hundred Health Canada scientists recently sent a letter to Alan Rock, Canada's Minister of Health, saying they are very concerned about the erosion of safety standards at Health Canada, which is risking the health of Canadians. The rapid approval of hormones and other drugs for use in food-producing animals, and genetically modified foods for humans, without extensive safety testing, were examples of their concerns.

The scientists also argued that through proposed legislation (Bill C-80), the Ministry of Health would lose the ability to enforce food safety altogether. The scientists recommended that the responsibility for ensuring food safety be kept with Health Canada. They said, "Failure to do so will be disastrous to the health of infants, children and adults."

Several weeks later, the Minister of Health had his Deputy, David Dodge, met with the scientists. Mr. Dodge expressed dissatisfaction with their letter, which he described as "alarmist" and "unprofessional." The scientists stood their ground and reiterated their concerns about dangerously declining safety standards, which had already allowed products of questionable safety on the Canadian market.

For 200 Health Canada scientists to sign the letter of concern is of immense significance. Some of the scientists also sent in a second letter expressing their dissatisfaction with the remarks of the Deputy Minister of Health. Two of the key scientists, Dr. Shiv Chopra and Dr. Margaret Haydon, who had been forbidden from speaking to the public about these concerns, are now before the Federal Court of Canada challenging their gag order.

The hearing is scheduled for June 20, 2000.

***

Reprinted with permission from the October 1998 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5H 3X1

BIOTECH NEWS
by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

 

* Health Canada Scientist Receives Gag Order

On Monday July 13, Shiv Chopra, PhD, a scientific evaluator in Health Canada, received a registered letter from Health Canada forbidding him to speak that evening at a public information session in Ottawa. The meeting was about genetically engineered foods.

Dr. Chopra is one of a growing number of doctors and scientists working for Health Canada who have expressed publicly their concern that Health Canada is risking the safety of consumers, for the sake of industry profit. On June 11, Dr. Chopra and Dr. Margaret Hayden, who also works in Health Canada's Bureau of Veterinary Drugs, were interviewed on CTV (Canada AM).

The scientists stated that they are being pressured by their department to approve antibiotics and hormones (such as genetically engineered bovine growth hormone or rBGH) for use in cattle, even though there are unresolved human safety concerns, such as antibiotic resistance, cancer, and other possible dangers.

Health Canada has also begun disciplinary action following this interview, preventing the scientists from expressing these concerns in public.

On Friday July 24, Dr. Chopra filed a grievance with Health Canada, asking that these restrictions to his freedom of speech be removed, along with the reprimand that he had received after speaking on CTV Canada AM. If Health Canada does not respond within 25 days, the case may be taken to the federal courts.

***

GEN2-25Senate Investigation of Health Canada

Senate Investigation of Health Canada

 

Has Health Canada Committed Contempt of Parliament?

 

Senate Hearings (Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders)

Date: Tuesday Feb 29,2000 6:00 pm

Witness: David Dodge, Deputy Minister of Health

Location: Rm 505, Victoria Bldg, 140 Wellington Street

Background

The Senate Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders is investigating claims that Health Canada has retaliated against its own scientists, who previously testified before the Senate and provided incriminating evidence against the department.

One scientist, Dr. Shiv Chopra, was suspended for 5 days without pay. Other scientists reported that they were pressured to "sanitize" government reports and coerced to pass drugs of questionable safety.

The scientists state they were ordered to "tow the line" and serve industry or they would be sent somewhere they "will never be heard from again." The scientists are concerned that public safety is at risk.

On Tuesday, Feb. 29, the Senate Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders will be questioning David Dodge, Deputy Minister of Health, on these issues.

Hearings Open to the Public - Everyone Invited

Support Health Canada whistle-blowers, whose efforts to protect the public have put them at odds with industry pressure to get their product on the market as quickly as possible.

***

Those concerned about the action of Health Canada can email the Minister of Health, Hon. Allen Rock, at rocka@parl.gc.ca

..............

Press Release

August 16, 1999

Health Canada Whistle-Blower Suspended Without Pay

 

Shiv Chopra, PhD, a Drug Evaluator at Health Canada, was just suspended for speaking at the Heritage Canada Employment Equity Annual Meeting on March 26, 1999. Dr. Chopra was invited to speak at the Heritage Canada meeting of his experiences of racial discrimination at Health Canada.

On August 11, 1999, Dr. Chopra received a letter of reprimand from Dr. Andre Lachance, Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs of the Health Protection Branch, advising Dr. Chopra that he is not allowed to speak at conferences without the authorization of his supervisor at Health Canada. Dr. Lachance described Dr. Chopra's comments on racial discrimination at Health Canada as public denunciation of Health Canada and inappropriate. Dr. Chopra was suspended for 5 days without pay for voicing his concerns in public.

Dr. Chopra is a well known human rights and public safety advocate. In 1998, he received the Award for Human Rights in the Workplace from the Professional Institute of the Pubic Service of Canada, in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights. He is President of the Federation of Race Relations Organizations of Ontario, and Board Member and immediate past President of the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations. Dr. Chopra has received numerous other awards for outstanding community service, including a Governor-General's award, an Ottawa Police Board Award, and a Gloucester Police Board Award.

Dr. Chopra has also been a key figure in exposing the pressure on Health Canada evaluators to approve drugs of questionable safety, including bovine growth hormone. Dr. Chopra has voiced his concerns to all levels of government, up to the Prime Minister's office, concerning both racial discrimination and the safety of Canadians being sacrificed for the sake of industry profit. He testified before the Senate, who praised him as a great hero, and has also received the support of numerous community organizations.

For further information, contact the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (Blair Stannard, 228-6310) or the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The following organizations, who have intervened in federal court challenge on a gag order imposed on Dr. Chopra, can also be contacted: Sierra Club of Canada (241-4611, Lucy Sharratt), Council of Canadians (Jennifer Story), National Farmers Union, Canadian Health Coalition (Mike McBain)

***

Reprinted from:

Capital City Vol. 1, Issue 13, July 16-22, 1998 Ottawa, Canada

FEDS SHUT SCIENTIST DOWN

 

Biotechnology: Health Canada expert Shiv Chopra was set to speak about food safety at a local community meeting until the government said no way

By Stephanie Power

Adding to a climate of uncertainty around genetic engineering of foods, the government scientist who was supposed to speak at a recent public meeting on the issue was told by Health Canada to bow out or face the consequences. Dr. Shiv Chopra was told July 13 that he couldn't speak at "What are We Eating? An Introduction to Genetic Engineering and Your Food" scheduled for that night at the YM-YWCA on Argyle.

Chopra was given written notice from his director, Dr. André Lachance, that he could face "disciplinary action" if he appeared at the event sponsored by Ottawa's Public Working Group on Food Concerns and the Rural Advancement Foundation International.

Chopra's name had appeared among a list of speakers advertised around Ottawa prior to the meeting. Lachance wrote that Chopra had not been given permission to speak and could be placing himself in an awkward position if he expressed opinions that differed from the department's. And underneath what may appear as a run of the mill public service regulation, lies a recent history of public dissent from Chopra and other scientists at Health Canada who claim public safety is being jeopardized by a department whose puppet strings are being controlled by large biotech corporations and their tasty grants.

Ignoring scientists

That was Dr. Chopra's message when he appeared with fellow Health Canada scientist Dr. Margaret Haydon on Canada AM, June 11. They stated that Health Canada administrators were disregarding scientists' recommendations to withhold approval for drugs, thus endangering public safety. When asked why there was pressure to approve drugs so quickly, Chopra told the reporter "Well, what do you think? Money. For multinational companies that produce those things."

Chopra received an official reprimand from Health Canada for appearing on Canada AM and is reticent to speak on the record now, for fear of further consequences.

But scientist Dr. Richard Wolfson, one of the meeting's organizers, calls the action by Health Canada a "gag order." "He's not able to tell the public what he knows as an expert because Health Canada says he can't speak in public except if he gets what he says cleared ahead of time, so that they know that he's not saying anything outside of the party line, " says Wolfson.

Robert Joubert, Health Canada's Director General of Human Resources, says if the department had been approached for a speaker, they would have found someone who could present information on genetic engineering in a "knowledgeable, fair and unbiased fashion." "It's Health Canada's decision who is going to speak for Health Canada We are of the opinion that Dr. Chopra was not the best person to do that," says Joubert.

But at the July 13 meeting, Wolfson's announcement that Chopra had been ordered not to appear, inflamed the anxiousness of a crowd already concerned that information about what they and their families are eating is being kept from them.

Sufficient testing

About 65 people attended the meeting organized by Wolfson and Carleton Political Economy student Lucy Sharratt. The discussion centred on the concern that the long term health effects of genetically altered plants have not been tested sufficiently and that genetically altered foods are not labeled in Canadian stores.

Wolfson says he contacted Chopra once the meeting was organized to ask him to speak, because Chopra is knowledgeable about the testing regulations at Health Canada and because "he cares more about public safety than protecting his job.".

Chopra is one of the authors of a Health Canada report on the hazards of the Bovine Growth Hormone intended for use as a milk production stimulant. This local scenario is unfolding amid a growing international movement against the genetic engineering of food, which has seen Prince Charles speak publicly about how we should not attempt to play god by crossing plant species.

Wolfson says he too is concerned that the long term effects of genetically altered foods aren't known and aren't being tested. Labels, he says, at least act as a warning to those who want to avoid the risk. "When you label it, it means people can choose whether or not they want to eat it," says Wolfson.

"Our main position is, it should be tested before it's put on the shelf and it should be labeled so people can choose, otherwise, we're all, in effect guinea pigs in an experiment and we're not even allowed to decide whether we want to participate."

***

Reprinted with permission from the December 1998 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5J 5B9

BIOTECH NEWS

 

BGH Scandal Heats Up

 

by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

 

On September 15 and 16, 1998 in Ottawa, six Health Canada scientists voiced grievances before the Public Service Staff Relations Board. The scientists described in detail how they were pressured by senior Health Canada management to approve genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (BGH) and other products of questionable safety. (BGH is injected into dairy cows to increase milk production.)

The scientists said when they hesitated to approve drugs they considered unsafe, they were threatened by their superiors with personal law suits by drug companies. The scientists were charged with insubordination. They felt harassed and isolated in their research.

The scientists reported that files related to BGH were stolen from a locked filing cabinet belonging to one of the scientists. Also stolen were notes from a meeting in which an industry official allegedly attempted to bribe the scientist to approve BGH.

The scientists also said that another hormone for use in livestock (Revlor-H) was approved for use in Canada by upper level management, even though the scientists recommended that the hormone not be approved due to very serious human health concerns.

The pressure to quickly approve drugs was attributed to the powerful lobbying by industry on Health Canada management. The Health Canada "GAPS" Analysis report on BGH, which was written by several of the Health Canada scientists, describes the risks and unknown factors in our understanding of BGH. However, the scientists who wrote the report were under orders from Health Canada management to keep their findings confidential and out of the public domain.

The GAPS report was recently obtained through access to information channels. These documents show that rats injected with BGH exhibited cysts of the thyroid, elevated antibody levels, and inflammation of the prostate - all strong warning signals that more investigation is needed.

Health Canada management seems to have kept these findings confidential clearly due to pressure from industry. In the USA, where these research results have been hidden from public view, BGH is being widely used and bringing in huge profits for industry. Other countries, including the EU, have not approved BGH due to health concerns. Previous research has linked the use of BGH with cancer in humans and sickness in animals.

Due to the increasing controversy over BGH, on Sept 21, the Prime Minister's Office sent "Talking Points" on BGH and HPB to all Liberal MPs and Senators. The talking points attributed the controversy over BGH to "management problems" and "lack of consensus" among HPB scientists. Two different reports on the safety of BGH were referred to, which were attributed to differing views among the scientists.

Due to the major safety questions regarding bovine growth hormone, the Agriculture Committee of the Canadian Senate is now conducting its own investigation of BGH. It is due to this Committee's efforts that the GAPS report was obtained through access to information channels.

Several of the Senators, notably Senator Eugene Whelan and Senator Mira Spivak, are moving to have the scientists address the Senate Agriculture Committee directly.

***

Reprinted with permission from the March 2000 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5J 5B9

BIOTECH NEWS
by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

 

* Toxin Seepage from Biotech Corn

Corn has been genetically engineered to contain a toxin called Bt to kill insect pests that eat the corn. Research at New York University shows that the Bt toxin is leaking through the roots of the plants into the soil. Scientists and environmentalists are concerned that the toxin may harm beneficial soil organisms, produce Bt-resistant super-bugs, or cause other ecological damage.

* Monsanto's Soy is Cracking Up

Farmers and researchers have found that Monsanto's genetically engineered herbicide-resistant soy plants split open in warm weather - causing crop losses of up to 40 per cent. The split plants are also more susceptible to fungal infection.

Meanwhile, at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, (despite one of its worst droughts on record) organic soy is producing bumper yields of 30 bushels per acre, compared to 16 bushels per acre from conventional soy.

* New Plant Viruses

Research published in the scientific journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease (No 4, 1999) warns that a virus that is inserted into many transgenic crops may result in widespread crop damage. The virus in question, the cauliflower mosaic virus (CaMV), is used to activate genetically-engineered genes. However, the researchers state that it may also reactivate dormant viruses or create new viruses that attack the host species and spread to other plants.

* Government Deal on Biotech Spuds

An internal Health Canada memo shows that Monsanto struck a private deal with senior federal food regulators to quickly approve two new kinds of genetically-engineered potatoes. The government agreed to approve Monsanto's crops in 30 days if Monsanto supplied specific data that was missing on the potatoes.

The ability of industry to get their products fast-tracked through the safety evaluation puts into question the whole regulatory process. Michèle Brill-Edwards, MD, FRCPC, former senior Health Canada drug regulator, commented on Monsanto's resistance to supply the information on their products. She said, "It's like a courtroom where you don't want the evidence against you to get out."

***

The Toronto Star

May  14, 1999,

SECTION: NEWS

HEALTH CANADA PLANS OFFICE FOR PUBLIC GRIPES 

 

by Laura Eggertson

Agency to take on ombudsman role, senators told

OTTAWA - Health Canada is creating a new  consumer affairs office to bolster public confidence in a department beset  by scandals....

The proposal didn't stop senators from grilling Health Canada officials yesterday.

The Senate committee is examining the department's handling of an application by Monsanto Canada to market rBST, a bovine growth hormone. Health Canada decided in January not to approve rBST, but the issue sparked public criticism. Health Canada has also been the focus of a royal commission on tainted blood and continues to be the subject of two RCMP investigations - one on the blood scandal and one on its regulation of breast implants.

Senators questioned Dodge and his officials about their drug approvals process, their cozy relationship with multinational food processing companies like Monsanto, and about the need to label  genetically  modified food.    

''The question is why should we trust you,'' Tory Senator Mira Spivak told Dodge.

''Public relations is not the answer. Your job is to protect human health. . .  . We can begin to trust you if you begin to look only at human health and let industry look after industry so you are not subject to undue influence.''     'Transparency is absolutely key.'

***

The Province

Friday, May 14, 1999

Final News A28 

Gene-tooled food going unchecked 

 

OTTAWA -- The federal Health Department  has admitted it can't adequately assess the growing number of genetically engineered foods being developed by industry. 

``We must strengthen our capacity in the genetics area,'' Deputy Health Minister David Dodge told  the Senate agriculture committee yesterday. ``We do not at the moment have that capacity on board.''  He said hundreds of genetically altered products are expected to enter the market soon, but genetic scientists capable of assessing such products are scarce and in high demand. ...

Committee chairman Leonard Gustafson said the issue worries Prairie farmers because of a recent sharp drop in the price of canola. The drop came after foreign scientists raised health concerns about genetically engineered canola, one of Canada's most important export crops. ...

Senator Eugene Whelan asked why the department issued gag orders against scientists who opposed the use of Revalor H, a hormone used to promote growth in beef cattle.

Margaret Haydon, a health department scientist, recently told the committee her research raised significant concerns about the product but she was ordered to be silent. ...

Hormone-treated beef is the topic of a major trade dispute between Canada and the European Union, which maintains the product may pose human health risks.

***

Reprinted with permission from the May 1998 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5H 3X1

* Biotechnology Promotes Poisons

Last month, this column reported that the US Environmental Protection Agency banned the herbicide bromoxynil (along with genetically engineered bromoxynil-resistant cotton), because of increasing evidence that the chemical is dangerously toxic.

Other herbicides are still being used in North America, along with genetically engineered crops designed to withstand these herbicides, in spite of growing evidence that these herbicides are also harmful. In fact, very little is known of the long-term impact from low-level chronic exposure to these chemicals.

Recent studies with animals has shown that the widely-used herbicide glufosinate can cause birth defects by killing brain cells in the embryo. [E.g. Neurosci Lett, 222(1):17-20, 1997; Teratog Carcinog Mutagen, 16(6):287-99, 1996] Glufosinate-tolerant canola and corn are being grown and sold in Canada and USA. These crops are genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide.

Last year, German researchers showed that the herbicide glyphosate (roundup) when sprayed on crops can increase levels of plant estrogens. Increased quantity of estrogenic compounds in the environment is known to produce unpredictable and damaging effects on wildlife, even causing male fish to lay eggs! Glyphosate is being used in North America, along with new varieties of soybeans and canola that are genetically engineered to tolerate higher applications of the herbicide.

***

Reprinted with permission from the January 2000 issue of Alive, Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition, 7436 Fraser Park Drive, Burnaby BC V5J 5B9

THE FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE OF FOOD

 

If the government won't take responsibility for separating industry profit from safety, it's up to consumers!

 

by Richard Wolfson, Ph.D., Health Advisor to the Natural Law Party of Canada

Our federal government has abdicated its responsibility for protecting public health in favour of promoting profits for international chemical giants. This was the message from a "Food Safety and Public Health Forum" sponsored by the Canadian Health Coalition in Ottawa last October.

John Verrall, from the United Kingdom (UK) Food Ethics Council, pointed out that biotechnology allows the entire world's food supply to be controlled by a handful of biotech giants. This is dangerous. The agenda of industry is not to protect the public, but to produce profits. The mad cow disease crisis in Europe showed consumers they can't blindly trust government, which has become controlled by industry. Canada's tainted blood scandal, which affected 60,000 lives, was another deregulation catastrophe.

Profit Before Safety

John Harvey, editor of the UK's Organic Farming Journal, said the main cause of food poisoning in Europe is not isolated failures of fridges or hygiene lapses, but companies systematically sidelining safety to reduce expenses.

Another important safety problem is overuse of antibiotics in animals, which is a major cause of antibiotic-resistant diseases. Pharmaceutical companies make enormous money selling these drugs to farmers.

Jeffrey Jenkins, a legal expert in international food trades, said the World Trade Organization (WTO) is being used to force countries to accept imports from other countries, even against their will. The WTO fined the European Union $180 million for rejecting hormone-laden beef from USA. WTO said that there was insufficient evidence showing hormone-laden beef is unsafe, in spite of links to cancer.

No Experience Necessary

Michèle Brill-Edwards, MD, FRCPC, formerly senior physician responsible for regulating prescription drugs in Canada, described the erosion of safety standards in Canada. Health Canada personnel with expertise in food safety, who might impose safety restrictions on industry, were removed from the agency.

Also, Canada's Food and Drugs Act is being systematically dismantled and deregulated. The recently instituted Canadian Food Safety and Inspection Act, which transferred food safety to the Ministry of Agriculture, is a clear conflict of interest. The Ministry of Agriculture cannot properly protect the public because its role is to support industry, which views safety as "red tape."

Precautionary Principle

We are moving away from the precautionary principle, built into the Food and Drugs Act, which states that products need be proven safe before they are marketed. Under proposed new legislation (currently referred to as Bill C-80), products can be marketed unless there is explicit proof of harm. In this framework, products can be sold until there are sufficient "dead bodies."

According to researcher Ken Rubin, Bill C-80 will limit the ability of the Minister of Health to act to ensure our safety. The other Ministers, who are more concerned with industry and trade, will be able to prioritize corporate profit above human protection. Dr. Brill-Edwards said government should be ensuring we don't all become "road kill on the highway to corporate profit."

Daniel Dotto, representing Consumer Health Protection for the European Commission, referred to the string of food crises in Europe (like mad cow, Coca-Cola, dioxins in Belgian chicken), showing what happens when governments loosen control on food safety. When the officials who protect public health also promote industry, health disasters occur.

The Gene Giants

Michael Hansen, PhD, from the Consumer Policy Institute in New York, explained that the main use of biotechnology is not to benefit consumers, but to increase herbicide sales. In 1996, 23% of biotech crops (covering 2.8 million acres) were engineered to be herbicide resistant. By 1998, 71% of biotech crops (28 million hectares) were herbicide resistant. Herbicide-resistant crops allow more use of herbicides to kill weeds without killing the crops.

The biotech giants are also the major herbicide producers (Monsanto, Novartis, Dupont, etc.) They use biotechnology largely to promote sales of their own products. These corporations have also bought up the major seed companies, which gives them even greater control over our food supply.

Codex Phonies

The Honourable Eugene Whelan, recently retired Senator and former Minister of Agriculture, said Agriculture Canada has become increasingly run by individuals who are not experts in Agriculture and are controlled by industry.

Mr. Whelan, who attended recent meetings of Codex (the international food regulating body), described Codex as the "phoniest organization in the world." Codex representatives were not scientists. Most had no background in agriculture or food, and were heavily lobbied by industry. He describing how the USA manipulated the proceedings as the "dirtiest politics in the world."

He said great advances in seeds could be made through conventional breeding, without crossing genes between species. Mr. Whelan also felt strongly that consumer protection should be the priority, not corporate profit.

The New World War

Craig Boljkovac, of the World Wildlife Fund, called for more accountability in government and in Codex. At recent Codex meetings, Canadians delegates would not support the elimination of dangerous toxins (PCB's, dioxins, furans, etc.) from the environment and would not support labelling of genetically engineered foods. We need to make our representatives accountable to the public.

Dr. Brill-Edwards said that we are fighting a war. The previous generation fought WWII. We are fighting an even greater war-- to maintain our health and existence in the face of domination by huge shortsighted corporations, who are blinded to profit at the expense of the safety of the entire human race.

Canadians have made some headway in the battle. BGH has been stopped in Canada and at Codex because of consumer protest. GE foods are being labeled or stopped in Japan, the European Union, Brazil, and other countries. In spite of insurmountable odds, we can take on the gene giants and win. We need to do it. There is no one else.

***

GM trade war threat U.S. envoy singles out Britain for attack

 

Daily Mail (UK) August 13, 1999

THE new U.S. ambassador to the EU has threatened a billion-dollar trade war over attempts by European governments to stop the spread of Frankenstein food.

Richard Morningstar has said that the conflict could dwarf recent rows over beef and bananas threatening jobs and the future of entire industries.

His warning will fuel claims that the U.S.dominated biotech industry is using its close ties with the American government to bully countries who do not want genetically modified foods.

The Americans are keen to exploit a loophole in the rules of the World Trade Organisation, which means ethical concerns and fears about health and the environment cannot be used to stop the spread of GM foods to Europe.

***

GEN4-20 Update on Health Canada Scientists

Several people asked me what has been happening with the Senate hearings and the Health Canada scientists. I apologize that it is so long, but here are the facts:

Update on Health Canada Scientists,

 

April 20, 2000

You may recall that the Standing Senate Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders was investigating whether Health Canada committed Contempt of Parliament by retaliating against its own scientists (in the Human Safety Division of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs (BVD)) for testifying before another Senate committee.

These scientists had previously testified before the Senate Agriculture Committee that they were being pressured and harassed to approve drugs and other products of questionable safety (including genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, or rBGH). Following their testimony before the Agriculture Committee, one of the scientists, Dr. Shiv Chopra, was suspended without pay for 5 days.

Other scientists told the Senate Committees that they were denied promotions, threatened, and harassed. In addition, they reported that less qualified individuals were being parachuted in from other departments, rather than appointing more qualified scientists in the department. One of the people mentioned as being parachuted in was Kelly Butler, who was brought in as Chief of the Human Safety Division of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs. (Following the Senate meeting, Kelly Butler left the department.)

On Tuesday Feb. 29, 2000 the Senate Committee (on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders) questioned David Dodge, Deputy Minister of Health. On the subject of Dr. Chopra's suspension, Mr. Dodge referred the Senate committee to Andre Lachance, the Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs. Mr. Dodge said that Dr. Lachance ordered the suspension of Dr. Chopra. The Committee then asked Dr. Lachance to appear before them, and the meeting was scheduled for March 29.

A few days after the Feb. 28 meeting, one of the clerks in the department was caught putting government documents on microfiche through a paper shredder. This incident is only the last of a series of incidents of document destruction. It appears that the government is destroying the documents because it is worried about anyone finding out about drugs of questionable safety that were approved or are still being pushed through the approval process.

This appears to be the same reason that the government is hesitant to promote one of the scientists to a senior position. If they were in a senior position, the scientists could expose the questionable drugs that have been approved. One of these drugs is Revlor-H, a hormone injected into cattle to increase weight. Previous research shows that the drug caused deformities in the ovaries, uterus, and prostate of the cows, and also damaged the thymus, which controls the immune system. The drug was not approved in Europe, also because it is linked to cancer. In Canada, Revlor-H was approved even though the Canadian scientists recommended it not be approved.

In any case, following the document shredding incident, Dr. Lachance disappeared from the department. A few days later, his lawyer sent a letter to the department saying that Dr. Lachance was on sick leave until at least June 1, and unable to attend Senate hearings or other meetings. This leave is clearly a tactic to prevent Dr. Lachance from testifying before the Senate, as his testimony could be quite embarrassing to Health Canada.

For instance, Health Canada insisted that Dr. Chopra was suspended because he spoke at a Heritage Canada meeting without approval from Health Canada, and because of allegations that Dr. Chopra spoke critically of Health Canada, alleging racism in the department. In fact, Dr. Chopra spoke on his own time and he did not represent Health Canada.

In addition, Health Canada administrators said that the decision to suspend Dr. Chopra was on the basis of an audio tape copy of Dr. Chopra's talk that they obtained from Heritage Canada. However, it is not known whether Heritage Canada supplied an audio tape or any other materials to Health Canada.

In addition, other scientists support the claims that Dr. Chopra was being unduly harassed because of his earlier testimony to the Senate Agriculture Committee. So there are clear holes in the decision to suspend Dr. Chopra, which could have been investigated by questioning Dr. Lachance.

After Dr. Lachance went on leave, the department replaced him (as Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs) by Dr. John Dueck, indicating that Dr. Lachance would not be returning to the department. Dr. Dueck is a plant pathologist/physiologist from AgCanada, without experience in veterinary medicine or any related science.

Incidentally, Dr. Paterson, the former Director General of the Food Directorate recently retired. (The new Director-General of the Food Directorate, Marc Le Maguer, an engineer parachuted in from the University of Guelph, has already stirred up controversy by publicly attacking Dr. Ann Clark, Associate Professor of Crop Science at the University of Guelph, after she questioned the safety of GMOs). The Assistant Deputy Minister of the Health Protection Branch (Joe Losos) will be leaving in May, being replaced by Diane Gorman, who is without a science background. Therefore virtually all the people involved with Dr. Chopra's suspension have left the department.

In further events, on April 13, 2000 the Senate Committee on (on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders) announced that it did not have enough evidence to conclude whether Health Canada was in Contempt of Parliament by suspending Dr. Chopra, and the Committee indicated it would be ending its investigation. However, the Committee did add that this did not mean that there was no evidence, and stated that the situation in the department was "deplorable."

Another recent development is that the Deputy Minister of Health has announced that the entire Health Protection Branch of Health Canada (which the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs is embedded in) is being dissolved and replaced by another structure. The following press release by the National Farmers Union gives further insights on these developments. These and other groups are urging the Senate Committee to continue its investigation of the suspension of Dr. Chopra.

.........

National Farmers Union

 

Region 3, RR 1, Ompah, Ontario K0H 2J0

Tel. 613-479-2453 Fax. 613-479-0126

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE             APRIL 17, 2000

SENATE REPORT COULD LET HEALTH CANADA OFF THE HOOK

 

GANANOQUE, Ont: - "We are amazed that the Senate Committee abandoned its investigation into Health Canada's conduct,'' said Peter Dowling, Ontario Coordinator for the National Farmers Union. He was commenting on a report tabled Thursday in the Senate by the Committee on Privileges, Standing Rules and Orders.

The Committee was investigating whether Health Canada was in contempt of Parliament when it temporarily suspended scientist Dr. Shiv Chopra as a disciplinary measure last summer. The report states that the evidence provided did not "adequately prove" allegations that Dr. Chopra was suspended because of his testimony before another Senate committee.

Chopra, a science reviewer in Health Canada's Bureau of Veterinary Drugs, had testified before the Senate's Agriculture and Forestry Committee in its hearings on the controversial genetically engineered milk hormone, rBGH. His testimony pointed to cover-ups, managers over-riding the concerns of scientists, and undue industry influence on food safety decisions.

"Why didn't the Privileges Committee make sure they heard from the man responsible for Dr. Chopra's suspension?" Dowling asked. The Senators had questioned Chopra, six of his fellow scientists, and Health Canada's Deputy Minister David Dodge to try to determine the reason for the suspension. The next witness, scheduled for the week of March 13, was to be Chopra's director, Dr. Andre Lachance.

"The accumulated evidence up to then had raised major issues about food safety, employment discrimination, and government-industry collusion" Dowling explained. "That evidence led the Committee straight to Lachance. Yet when that key witness suddenly had to go on stress leave for several months, the Committee's determination to pursue the matter seems to have crumbled."

"Given that the Senators are aware of highly questionable tactics and manipulation by Health Canada management, it is surprising that they stopped investigating when that same management came up with another stalling tactic. Direct evidence is seldom readily available in such a case, and persistence is essential," said Dowling

The Senate will consider the report on May 2. The NFU is urging the Senators to accept it only as an interim report, and to call Lachance as a witness. "We hope Canadians will tell their Senators that if they accept this document as the final report, it leaves too many questions unanswered. This is of concern to everyone who cares about food safety, fair employment practices, the publics right to know, and ultimately, democracy itself," Dowling concluded.

For More Information:

Peter Dowling, NFU Ontario Coordinator: (613) 546-0869

Helen Forsey, NFU Ontario Office: (613) 479-2453

***

GEN4-15

Ottawa Citizen

April 10, 2000 Page A1

Government paying to lobby itself: Industry Canada is a member -- and a client -- of group organized to influence biotech policy

 

Industry Canada pays dues to a lobby group that works to influence federal government policy on biotechnology and genetically modified organisms, according to documents obtained through the Access to Information Act.

Despite attempts to scale back its involvement with BIOTECanada, Industry Canada continued last year to buy membership in the Ottawa-based lobby group that serves as an advocate for biotech companies.

Intra-departmental memos, obtained by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin show Industry Canada renewed its membership in December after BIOTECanada agreed to slash annual dues from $6,500 to $1,000 to accommodate the cash-strapped pleas of Dr. George Michaliszyn, director of the Bio-industries Branch of Industry Canada...

However, documents show the department did more than show its support through membership. Over the past 15 months, Industry Canada has issued to BIOTECanada at least four separate research contracts worth at least $117,000.

Two of the contracts were to study the positive or negative effects of research and development tax credits on biotechnology companies. Another was to examine the effects of Y2K-related ``computer problems in the Canadian Biotechnology Industry Community.'' The fourth was ``a survey of Canada's capacity in bioinformatics.''

In its lobbyist activity disclosures required under federal law,

BIOTECanada also acknowledges receiving $150,000 from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and $34,000 from the International Development Research Centre.

***

AGRICULTURE-CANADA:

Scientists Reject Hormone Growth in Cattle By Mark Bourrie OTTAWA, Nov 15 (IPS) - Environmentalist are supporting six government scientists who blew the whistle on politicians and chemical industry executives trying to pressure them into approving the use of cattle growth hormones in Canada.

Growth hormones such as recombinant bovine Somatotropin (rBST) have been in use in the United States for five years but cannot be used here until approved by 'Health Canada' - the Canadian Department of Health. Although banned, traces of rBST have turned up in milk and cheese here as local farmers apparently have bought the hormone in U.S. border towns and smuggled it into Canada.

When the six scientists at Health Canada balked and went public with stories about the pressure being put on them to approve rBST, senior managers in the department created two scientific panels to look into the issue - one comprised of veterinarians, the other appointed by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Opponents of the panels say that one of the "independent" scientists on the phsyicians and surgeons panel is Rejeanne Gougeon, a nutritionist at McGill University in Montreal. She, according to her curriculum vitae, has worked as a consultant for a U.S. agrichemical firm inbolved in producing rBST Elzabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, says the six scientists, who have taken their complaints to a civil service arbitration panel, have risked their careers to expose the pressure being applied to approve new drugs.

''The crux of their complaint and their grievance is that the health of Canadians is being compromised by a culture of approvals within Health Canada,'' she said. ''They're under pressure to approve pharmaceuticals, pressure to approve verterinary drugs, pressure to approve substances that get into the food supplies of Canadians before adequate testing. There are some very serious allegations that have been made.'' May says the six scientists came forward after a series of drugs and growth hormones were approved despite warnings from government scientists.

For example the growth hormone 'Revelor H', which is intended to improve beef production, was ''approved over the objections of three Health Canada scientists who believed there was not yet adequate evidence that this growth hormone was safe to be in our food supply,'' she said. ''This was while Canada was before the world trade organization challenging the European ban of beef hormones. Political interference and pressure from the manufacturer got Revelor H approved before it should have been.'' May's organization has called for a public inquiry into the way Health Canada approves drugs.

The Canadian government denies the allegations made by the scientists. Health minister allan Rock told the Canadian Parliament that his ministry has not yet approved rBST and will not do so until it is proven to be safe. But Maude Barlow, director of the Council of Canadians - a group that fights against free trade and the growing power of transnational corporations - says that the Canadian government is giving up its power over public health.

''We believe that Health Canada, under tremendous pressure from the drug industry, is about to approve this dangerous drug,'' she says. ''Their bosses may have ordered the scientists not to speak about it publicly, but they have been brave enough to come forward.'' Quoting from a Health Canada document, Barlow said the government wants to make Canada ''the preferred place of business from a regulatory point of view.'' It has ordered drug regulators ''to advocate the strategic interests of our industrial clients...no longer the Canadian public, but the person or company who pays for the service,'' she says. ''Very simply, the health protection branch of the government of Canada is being dismantled and now directly serves transnational food, drug and chemical corporations. Scientists are forced to approve drugs that are not safe for animal or human consumption.

''Food inspection has been given over to a new agency whose mandate is to promote trade, not to protect health. In simple language, this is the corporatization of the government of Canada's health protection branch so that no one will be in charge of animal or human health.'' The panel hearings are expected to last for several months. (END/IPS/mb/mk/98)

__________________________________
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign for Mandatory labeling and long-term testing of genetically engineered food
500 Wilbrod Street, Ottawa, ON  Canada  K1N 6N2
email: rwolfson@concentric.net

__________________________________
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes.

 
The above information courtesy of Richard Wolfson, PhD, Consumer Right to Know Campaign for Mandatory labeling and long-term testing of genetically engineered food.




 


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