CDN vets fired over BSE issue

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 13, 2004
by WLJ
—Truth is not being told, say scientists
Three Health Canada veterinary drug bureau scientists fired in July for insubordination have
suggested their real offence had been lobbying for stronger government anti-BSE rules, including an end to feeding animal protein to animals.
The official reason for their dismissal has not been made public by Health Canada. The three scientists, Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon, and Gerard Lambert, say they and their union will challenge the firings.
In his July dismissal letter to Chopra, deputy health minister Ian Green alleged the scientist was refusing to take orders and was deliberately making little progress in an assigned work project.
"I have concluded that you have chosen to deliberately refuse to comply with my instructions," Green wrote. "Given your previous disciplinary record and your continued unwillingness to accept responsibility for work assigned to you, I have determined that the bond of trust that is essential to productive employer-employee relationship has been irreparably breached."
However, in a recent letter to an Ottawa newspaper, the three scientists suggested the real story was related to BSE. They were responding to a published letter from the acting assistant deputy health minister Karen Dodds that hinted the firings came because the three wandered from the department's science-based drug and policy review system to promote their own opinions.
She said the cause of dismissal cannot be revealed publicly to protect the confidentiality of the former employees. The three dismissed that as an offensive fabrication.
"We urge Ms. Dodds to reveal to the public relevant correspondence and numerous other documents that we personally exchanged with her about the so-called mad-cow disease and how to eradicate it in Canadian cattle," said the Aug. 19 letter.
Dodds had suggested the issue is sticking to the scientific review required for approval of veterinary drugs and procedures.
"Teams of scientists with a broad range of scientific expertise review drug submissions," she wrote. "It is this breadth of scientific evidence, not the personal opinions of individuals, that is critical to scientific decision making."
The three scientists first made names for themselves by complaining in the 1990s that Monsanto was exerting undue pressure on the veterinary drugs bureau to approve a bovine growth hormone drug meant to increase dairy cow milk production.
They said scientific evidence about its potential dangers to humans and cattle was inconclusive and the precautionary principle should be invoked to block approval.
They went public with their allegations and were disciplined by the department which said they should have followed internal channels to register their objections. The three went to court and overturned the punishment.
Chopra also successfully complained to a human rights tribunal that he had been denied promotions because of racism.
During an appearance before the Senate agriculture committee in 1998, they said they were being pressured by department managers on the bovine hormone issue, bullied by the industry and had their files stolen.
Under political and public pressure, Health Canada eventually refused to approve the drug that is widely used in the United States.
Later, the three publicly complained that the government was being too timid in setting rules
to eradicate BSE.— Barry Wilson, Western Producer, Ottawa Bureau
(Preceding story reprinted with permission of Western Producer.)