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Date: Tue, 4 Aug 1998 10:15:28 -0500
From: Richard Wolfson <email@example.com>
Subject: Biotech clampdown continues
Capital City Issue 15 July 30-Aug 5 Ottawa, Canada
Biotech clampdown continues
Biotechnology: Federal scientist files grievance against food safety gag order
By STEPHANIE POWER
In a struggle that will affect what food will hit your plate in the next
millenium, the battle between scientists and administrators at Health
Canada over biotechnology testing secrecy is growing more heated.
Dr. Shiv Chopra, a drug inspector with the department who was ordered this
month not to speak at a community meeting on genetically engineered foods,
has filed an official grievance with Health Canada seeking to repeal the
gag order and assert his freedom of speech.
Chopra, who has worked with the department for 28 years, is also appealing
an official reprimand he received for appearing on Canada AM in June with
Dr. Margaret Haydon, who works with him in the Human Safety Division of the
Bureau of Veterinary Drugs. The scientists told CTV reporters that Health
Canada was succumbing to pressure from industry to approve drugs that were
not passing the safety tests of the department.
Neither scientist will speak on the record now, for fear of consequences
from the department, which has 10 days to respond to the grievance.
Franca Gatto, a representative of Health Canada, says the private nature of
a grievance prohibits her from speaking about it and that none of Chopra's
supervisors were available to comment.
But in an earlier interview with Capital City Robert Joubert, Health
Canada's Director General of Human Resources, said if the department had
been approached for a speaker, they would have found someone more suitable
to present information on genetic engineering. Joubert said that the
department was "of the opinion that Dr. Chopra was not the best person to
Chopra and Haydon were among five scientists in their division who filed
grievances last year stating that they were being coerced into approving
drugs without adequate safety information, including the highly
controversial milk production stimulant bovine growth hormone.
Michele Demers, vice president of Chopra's union, the Professional
Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPS), says Chopra's grievance
is evidence of the need for protection for dissenting public servants, and
is being taken very seriously by union officials.
"PIPS has been advocating for a number of years some form of whistle
blowing legislation in order to allow public service employees to denounce
unacceptable doings on the part of the department that have an impact on
the public," says Demers, adding that the Liberals have failed to act on a
1993 promise to enact protections for whistle blowers.
A spokesperson for blood groups in the blood scandal, Michelle
Brill-Edwards worked for Health Canada for 15 years, during which she
served as the senior physician responsible for prescription drug approvals.
Brill-Edwards resigned in 1996, alleging that, faced with corporate
pressure, the ministry was passing drugs that weren't safe.
"Dr. Chopra's experience is absolutely in character with the past history
of the department. This is a department that is very vigilant in precluding
any expression of professional opinion," says Brill-Edwards.
In Chopra's case, the public health issue that dare not speak its name - or
that Health Canada employees dare not speak of, at least, for fear of
official reprimand - is whether the Canadian government is testing
genetically engineered foods thoroughly before allowing them on the market.
Genetically engineered or genetically altered crops are plants that have
had sequences of DNA from other species spliced into them that would not
naturally have been able to cross species - such as fish genes into
agricultural plants for example - to make the recipient more resistant to
pesticides, cold weather or other perils.
Critics of genetic engineering claim that its effects on human and
environmental health have not yet been sufficiently tested and that, at the
very least, products that have been genetically engineered should be
labeled so that consumers can choose whether they want to eat them.
Bruce Bilmer from the Office of Biotechnology at the Canadian Food
Inspection Agency says Health Canada tests all genetically engineered for
food safety and then decides which of those foods should be labeled.
"There is mandatory labeling in Canada for foods that may have a safety
difference or that have undergone significant compositional or nutritional
change," says Bilmer.
Health Canada information indicates that the department has thus far
approved for the market the Flavr Savr Tomato, genetically modified corn,
genetically altered Roundup Ready Soybeans and genetically altered NewLeaf
potatoes, among other genetically modified crops.
Richard Wolfson of the Consumers Right to Know Campaign, the group that
invited Chopra to speak, says not testing such radical gene alterations
over a longer term before allowing products on the market is a dangerously
"The scientists are dealing with a very limited paradigm when they say
that they insert one little gene and doesn't affect anything else because
we just don't know enough about gene interactions to say that. We don't
know what the long term effects are, particularly in terms of allergies and
long term toxicities," says Wolfson.
Wolfson and Public Working Group on Food Concerns have been meeting at the
YMCA on Argyle for the past three weeks and are planning events at local
grocery stores and farmers' markets to lobby for the labeling of all
genetically altered foods.
Richard Wolfson, PhD
Consumer Right to Know Campaign,
for Mandatory Labelling and Long-term
Testing of all Genetically Engineered Foods,
500 Wilbrod Street
Ottawa, ON Canada K1N 6N2
tel. 613-565-8517 fax. 613-565-1596
Our website, http://www.natural-law.ca/genetic/geindex.html
contains more information on genetic engineering as well as
previous genetic engineering news items
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