TRIBUTE TO SHIV CHOPRA: Champion of Truth and Food Safety (1933 – 2018)
“Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt. The first step to fighting injustice is to make it visible.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Shiv Chopra was born in India. He was 13 years old when independence from Britain was achieved amidst the blood bath of ‘Partition’ and Gandhi’s assassination. After obtaining his degree in veterinary medicine in India, he also received a PhD in microbiology from McGill University in the 60s and became a drug and vaccine evaluator for Health Canada in 1969, joining its veterinary division in 1987. There he observed with increasing alarm the systemic corruption of Canada’s health policy as the federal government put increasing pressure on him to approve drugs that were already known to be harmful. Yet he stubbornly insisted on the safety studies and tests that Canadian law requires before he would approve these veterinary drugs.
These antibiotics and growth hormones, used to increase weight and size of food animals (to increase profit), are not metabolized/detoxed out of the animal but instead wind up being ingested by people who eat this meat. Because consumers cannot metabolize the drugs either, their health is compromised and drug residues end up passing through their urine and into the public water supply. They also contribute to antibiotic resistance.
After observing the corrupt drug approval process taking place in his department, Dr. Chopra decided not to keep quiet, and he began to blow the whistle, introducing a hefty dose of his Gandhi-inspired political philosophy to the Canadian government. Gandhi summed it up in the Sanskrit word satyagraha (insistence on truth). And it was infectious. Shiv received support not only from his immediate colleagues, Drs. Margaret Haydon, Gérard Lambert, and others, but more than 200 Health Canada scientists who wrote to then Health Minister Allan Rock in September 1999, demanding that the government stop serving corporate interests and return instead to serving the public interest.
During these years, Dr. Chopra and his colleagues were supported by the 36,000-member strong Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC). “PIPSC scientists don’t squeak, they roar!” their information pamphlet asserted, objecting to the pressures put onto Health Canada scientists to do the bidding of corporations and ignore the law. They also pointed to the increasing deregulation designed to accommodate corporate profits and undermine public safety. PIPSC expressed its outrage at gag orders imposed on Health Canada employees, which even forbade them to publish in scientific journals. Finally, a precedent-setting legal case in federal court occurred in September 2000 when Justice D. Tremblay-Lamer ruled that Health Canada could not place gag orders on scientists because a civil servant is responsible to the public, not the government of the day. Equally helpful were the media whose relentless coverage of the controversy exasperated many politicians of the day.
Fierce Defenders of Food Safety
The government’s aim, regardless of which party was in power, was to move Health Canada away from risk assessment and towards risk management (the U.S. model), but they did not expect such resistance. To this day, Big Pharma works along the lines of managing harm and death as part of doing business, not preventing harm. For example, in his book, Corrupt to the Core, Shiv commented that in 2001, Bayer lobbyists, in the presence of Diane Kirkpatrick (then the Director General of the Veterinary Drugs Directorate), opined: “The risk of one in one million people dying due to the use of any products, including veterinary drugs, pesticides, etc., was considered to be manageable. I disagreed, saying that this was not so according to the Canadian Food and Drugs Act. I stressed that if Canada were to apply this definition to risk and knowingly allow even one person to die, someone else above my head will have to make that decision.” Kirkpatrick, unwilling to accept Dr. Chopra’s refusal to approve the highly toxic antibiotic Baytril for use in food animals, “spoke as if on behalf of Bayer,” asking Shiv “to explain why it should not be allowed … in Canada while the USFDA [U.S. Federal Drug Administration] raised no objection to it. My response … was that I couldn’t care less about what the USFDA did and that I must apply due diligence to my job description under the Food and Drugs Act of Canada.”
With the above in mind, it’s no surprise that an internal 1992 government memo stated that the reason Dr. Chopra was consistently passed over for promotion was because he could not “be groomed into a senior management position”; that he was not “a team-player”; that he appeared unable to understand “the North American way of doing business.” These “deficiencies [were due to] his racial and cultural background.”
The conflict between assessment and management is the key which ultimately led to Chopra, Haydon, and Lambert being fired on July 14, 2004 for “insubordination”. In a nutshell: If health policy is governed by management instead of risk, abnormal drug test findings can be ignored. Drug assessment requires investigating how the liver, especially in rats, reacts to a new chemical compound. If liver enzyme production signals toxicity, the proposed drug is too dangerous. Rats are endowed by nature to metabolize/detox tremendously harmful compounds which other test animals, such as mice whose enzyme system is virtually identical to humans, can never survive.
Dr. Haydon, for example, delayed the Bovine Growth Hormone application by nine years because Monsanto would not provide the legally mandated rat studies. Since Dr. Haydon already had some proof from scientific literature that this synthetic hormone not only caused mastitis in cows but also birth defects in calves, this evidence would have been amplified had Monsanto complied with the mandatory rat studies. In 1994 her office was broken into and all her files were stolen. This event eventually led to a Senate investigation chaired by the late Eugene Whelan, starting on October 22, 1998. In an attempt to stop the truth on Bovine Growth Hormone from coming out, and knowing that a Senate’s subpoena to testify must be obeyed, the government “coached” Shiv and his colleagues on what to say at the hearing, and ordered him to testify from a two-thirds blacked-out version of his own official report. When Dr. Chopra was sworn in at the Senate, he asked, “Which oath takes precedence? The one I just made to God or the one I made as an employee of the ministry?” Senator Eugene Whelan told him to “go with God,” and the whole rotten story came out. That is why Canada does not currently allow the use of Bovine Growth Hormone – a proven carcinogen and endocrine disruptor. And that is why the European Union and other jurisdictions banned it too.
Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haydon did not get the Order of Canada for stopping Bovine Growth Hormone’s release into the Canadian food supply; they were fired instead. Being fired was a family affair at the Chopras. His wife, Dr. Nirmala Chopra, was head of the Pre-Marketing Review Section at Health Canada’s Bureau of Medical Devices from 1979 to 1993. She insisted on checking out immunological reactions to breast implants, but that legally required satyagraha approach was inconvenient and she was fired. Today, about 300,000 women receive such implants annually in the U.S. Nirmala’s Health Canada story was documented in Nicholas Regush’s 1993 book Safety Last.
Canadian Government No Longer Oversees Drug Safety
In 1995, the U.S. passed “cost recovery” legislation. On January 6, 1996, Canada adopted the same, without parliamentary debate, in secret, through an Order in Council. This transferred the responsibility for drug safety and efficacy from Health Canada civil servants (mandated to act in the public interest) to the manufacturers of those drugs, thereby removing all independent oversight. Health Canada employees were informed that now their “client” was not the Canadian public “but the companies” applying for drug approval documentation. To safeguard against another Margaret Haydon, time limits were placed on regulators reviewing drug applications.
This regulatory abomination is still in place and was followed up in 2003 with the so-called ‘Report on Plans and Priorities’ which absurdly opined that the Food and Drugs Act has “too narrow a focus on safety … and does not allow for taking into account considerations other than safety in managing health risk.” What was needed, said this report, was “to unleash business energies and reduce the regulatory burden on business.” Adding insult to injury, this report was followed up by ‘Health and Safety First’, the government’s plan describing “a higher level of protection” by revamping the Food and Drugs Act such that drug manufacturers would be completely protected against all possible liability once their products passed into the market. Prime Minister Harper tried to make this happen with the infamous Bill C-51 in 2008. This enraged me so much that I published a book entitled What Part of No! Don’t They Understand? The first two copies, hot off the press, were personally handed to Harper. Then Shiv and I lectured on that proposed Bill in many venues, helping to put the breaks on it – for awhile.
In the January 11, 2018, issue of Toronto Star, Dr. Joel Lexchin, a public policy expert from U of T, informed us that last October Health Canada proposed increasing drug companies’ cost recovery fees to 90% in exchange for even faster reviews. But Dr. Lexchin stated that research shows that if a review is mandated to be complete within 300 days there is a one in five chance of serious post-marketing harm to people. If the review period is only 180 days, the incidence of adverse events rises to one in three. Dr. Lexchin proposes a “return to complete funding” by parliament ensuring responsibility only to Canadians. (That would be acting according to satyagraha. Don’t hold your breath.)
During the time that Shiv and his colleagues were fighting to protect us from cancer-causing, hormone-disrupting, and antibiotic resistance-producing drugs, other scandals hit the world scene. For example, in 2004 FDA regulator Dr. David Graham started blowing the whistle about hundreds of thousands of deaths from Vioxx. And U of T’s Dr. Nancy Olivieri refused to obey Apotex’s order to exclude “known liver failure” from patient medication consent forms. In 2017, the United Nations declared antibiotic resistance to be the greatest unfolding global health disaster, mainly due to antibiotic overuse in food-producing animals.
I am proud to have been Shiv’s friend for almost two decades, and the publisher of his fantastic account of speaking truth to power: Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower (2008). Having grown up in India myself, my visits with Shiv and Nirmala were always a bit like coming home. While Shiv cracked open cardamom pods for our chai, I took notes on background for upcoming events in courts and before Senate committees as the battle for safe drugs and food progressed.
Shiv gave us the perfect blueprint on how to achieve food safety because, he said, “It is our divine right … to eat and feed our families the food that the earth produces naturally.” His ‘Five Pillars of Food Safety’ demand: 1. No pesticides; 2. No GMOs; 3. No animal hormones; 4. No animal antibiotics; 5. No rendered animal protein feeds.
All of us who eat owe a big debt of gratitude to Shiv Chopra, B.V.Sc., A.H., M.Sc., PhD, and Fellow of the World Health Organization, for his scientific rigour and personal integrity.
SOURCES AND RESOURCES
On or About Shiv Chopra:
• His book: Chopra, S. Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, Kos 2009 – No longer available in print. Can be purchased on disc from Shiv Chopra’s website www.shivchopra.com This is also the source of the Canadian Council on Food Sovereignty and Health which is a non-profit organization that works towards food safety by opposing government policy on GMOs, pesticides, antibiotic resistance etc. It is also the source of all the legal actions undertaken and how to access the original documents.
• Vitality magazine published one of Dr. Chopra’s best articles and most comprehensive analysis
of food issues in the July/August 2014 issue entitled “How Safe is Our Food Supply?”
available online at: http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/how-safe-is-our-food-supply/
• Helke Ferrie published several articles on Chopra vs Health Canada during the last 15 years. These explain in greater detail what happened with regard to specific antibiotics, hormones and food policies, how the courts supported Chopra almost in every case, and what action can be taken to oppose Health Canada’s policies which are almost never based on published mainstream science. On Vitality’s website:
February 2001: Victory for Heroes of Health Care
March 2004: Health Canada Sells Us Out
November 2007: Global Prescription for Recovery from Disease
• More detailed discussions are in Helke Ferrie’s books. Available for FREE online:
www.helkeferrie.com download: Creative Outrage – A Medical Journalist Reports on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in Current Medicine, Kos 2013
Note: helkeferrie.com is inactive at present and will be renewed later this year.
What Part of No! Don’t They Understand? Rescuing Food and Medicine from Government Abuse, Kos 2008 – type this title into google and go to www.scrib.com/documents for free download
On antimicrobial resistance:
It has been known since 1945, as stated in Alexander Fleming’s Nobel lecture awarded for his discovery of the first antibiotic (Penicillin), that bacteria evolve to defend themselves against antibiotics very rapidly. The most current and helpful information on this problem, its causes, and how to deal with this as contained in two books:
Blaser, M. MD Missing Microbes – How Killing Bacteria Creates Modern Plagues, One World, 2014
Dietert, R. (immunotoxicologist). The Human Super-Organism: How the Microbiome is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life, Dutton, 2016
For a short introduction to the world of microbes and antibiotic resistance see
Helke Ferrie, Vitality articles of March 2016, July/August 2016, February 2017
The United Nations informed the world in September 2016 that antimicrobial resistance is the single most important health issue today. See World Health Organization report and action plan following this announcement (google) also: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.who.int/drugresistance; Antimicrobial-Resistance@fao.org
The main sources of antimicrobial resistance, as Shiv Chopra explains in his book, are pesticides, synthetic hormones, the herbicide Roundup, and antibiotics as used in agriculture and food-producing animals. Go to International Agency for Research on Cancer for details on Roundup’s role in causing cancer, June 14, 2017 – the date on which it became legally mandatory in California to list Roundup as a human carcinogen. For the specific cancers and birth defects known to mainstream medical research caused and/or promoted by Roundup go to Institute for Responsible Technology. For the current policy of Health Canada on antimicrobial resistance go to Health Canada. September 5, 2017.
How Roundup and pesticides cause antibiotic resistance go to www.organic-center.org/hot-science where you will find the mainstream science research showing how these herbicides, pesticides, and also specifically 2,4D cause antibiotic resistance in E.coli and salmonella (May 25, 2015); how feedlots distribute resistant microbes via the air and on the clothes of people who work there (Feb. 19, 2015).
The Canadian Medical Association supported Shiv Chopra’s efforts to deal with antibiotic resistance for many years, but Health Canada fired Chopra, Haydon and Lambert in 2004 anyway. See www.cmaj.ca Oct 15, 2002 editorial; review article by John Cody in the same issue; July 12, 2011, and December 9, 2014.
What you Can Do:
- Support Democracy Watch, Council of Canadians, and shivchopra.com initiatives.
- Following the information by Dr. Joel Lexchin in The Toronto Star on January 11, 2018 (cited in this obituary), contact your local MP and demand this Health Canada effort to abandon all public responsibility to Big Pharma be stopped absolutely. If you send copies of your letter to the Prime Minister, the major newspapers, CBC Radio and your local paper, the impact of your protest and demand will be formidable.
- Write to the House of Commons Government Operations and Estimates Committee and express your support for the proposed whistleblower legislation so government scientists can’t be fired for speaking the truth. You can express your support for this currently proposed legislation by including it in your letter to your local MP.