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Is Canada's Negligence Putting its Citizens - And the U.S. - At Risk?

June 28, 2011 | 50,625 views

By Dr. Mercola

dental procedureThe primary objective of this web site is to preserve the biological integrity of the human race. We have focused on four initial steps to achieve this:

  • Vaccine Education and Choice
  • Fluoride Free Water
  • No GMOs
  • Mercury Free Dentistry

Today I will focus on the fourth one, mercury-free dentistry. So far your response has been tremendous, and largely as a result of readers -- who have taken the time to write to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on this issue -- we are on the brink of prompting real change in the fight for mercury-free dentistry.

Most recently, the U.S. State Department has called for a "phase down" of mercury fillings, followed by an "eventual" phase out. The State Department's submission to the Mercury International Negotiation Committee also called for:

  • Educating patients and parents (about amalgam) in order to protect children and fetuses
  • Training of dental professionals on the environmental impacts of mercury in dental amalgams

This is an incredible turn of events that brings us one step closer to mercury-free dentistry for all, although even though the FDA signed on to this statement internationally, they have yet to change the rule at home, so U.S. support is still needed. Similarly, on the Canadian front, your help is urgently needed.

Canada's Chief Dental Officer Embroiled in Conflict of Interest

The United Nations has convened a series of five conferences to put together the environmental treaty on mercury, a treaty that represents a chance for the world to rid itself of amalgam, and rid dentistry of mercury. Chief Dental Officer Peter Cooney attended the second of these conferences, held in Japan in January 2011.

As Chief Dental Officer, Cooney was representing the Canadian government, which has historically been ahead of the United States in their progress toward removing toxic mercury from dental fillings. Canada advised dentists to stop placing amalgam in children and pregnant women in 1996 -- 15 years ago!

However, this seems to be regressing, as Cooney was not only representing the Canadian government at the environmental treaty on mercury conference, he was also representing the European-based Fédération Dentaire Internationale (FDI), a private trade group that lobbies against mercury-free dentistry and is funded by its "corporate partners" -- major amalgam manufacturers and distributors Dentsply, Henry Schein Inc., and Ivoclar Vivadent.

As if there were any doubt about this egregious conflict of interest, upon rising to speak Cooney actually announced, "I am wearing two hats"!

In a petition asking the Prime Minister of Canada to remove Peter Cooney from his position as Chief Dental Officer, dentist David Warwick, supporter of Consumers for Dental Choice, stated:

"Amalgam's use today is by dentists who refuse training to convert to mercury-free dentistry; with amalgam, they make more money per chair per day. The World Dental Federation profits handsomely from amalgam; it has "Corporate Partnership" contracts with amalgam manufacturers and sellers, who pay FDI money in exchange for FDI promoting its product.

So Cooney – disdainful of Health Canada's admonition to stop using amalgam on our children and our pregnant women – goes to Japan to protect the interests of a trade group and the profits of the amalgam makers who partner with it. Indeed, Cooney has a pattern of leaving the country, getting a speaking slot as a government official, then announcing he is "wearing two hats." In April 2010 he pulled the same stunt at a UN meeting in Washington."

Why is the Canadian Government Allowing a Clear Violation of its Ethics Code?

The Canadian government's Values and Ethics Code for Public Service clearly states that officials must "avoid or withdraw from activities or situations that would place the public servant in real, potential or apparent conflict of interest with his or her official duties."

Yet, Peter Cooney is obviously taking part in activities that conflict with his official title. The petition gave several clear examples of this very conflict, noting that Cooney's role as FDI lobbyist is at odds with his role as Chief Dental Officer. The petition noted, for instance:

  • "The Canadian Government and FDI have different positions on the use of amalgam. Health Canada advises dentists not to place dental amalgam in children, pregnant women, and people with impaired kidney function. Since this limits the profits of FDI members, FDI claims that amalgam is safe for everybody and opposes all restrictions on amalgam use. Dismissive of protecting children and pregnant women from this mercury exposure, Cooney endorses dentists making profits without conscience."
  • The Canadian Government and FDI have different positions on the alternatives to amalgam, a major issue at the treaty negotiations. Health Canada programs for First Nations and Inuit children have successfully utilized atraumatic restorative treatment (ART), a modern mercury-free restorative technique that is the leading alternative to dental mercury use in rural areas especially.

    Since the technique can be performed by non-dentists, FDI opposes it for economic reasons. Although Health Canada endorses ART, Cooney in Japan was dismissive of the practice – and for obvious reasons: FDI dentists would lose their monopoly.
  • The Canadian Government and FDI have different positions on stakeholder participation in the treaty negotiation process. While neutral and objective public servants – such as many we have met from Environment Canada – are graciously open to considering our position and encourage the participation of all stakeholders, Chief Dental Officer Cooney of Health Canada is abetting a trade group that is actively trying to shut us out of the process. 

    FDI's stated goal is to be "the sole representative of the international dental practice community within the United Nations Environmental Programme Global Mercury Partnership and at the United Nations and World Health Organisation consultations on global mercury." In order to maintain the illusion that FDI is the "sole representative," Cooney denies the existence of the mercury-free dental societies and undermines dental patient organizations – such as ours."

The fact that Canada's Chief Dental Officer spoke on behalf of FDI also gives the organization undue authority, implying that it is government-backed when it is not. Cooney also used his title and influence to secure prime time slots for FDI presentations that private entities do not get. As the petition explained:

"Cooney's decision to present himself as Chief Dental Officer of Canada but to lobby for a position at odds with the Canadian government's domestic policy and its developing international position puts our government in an awkward situation.

At the least, Cooney has created the impression that Canada does not want amalgam addressed in the treaty at all, even though the official delegation says it has taken no such stand. At the worst, Cooney's "two hats" suggest that Canadian government officials may float back and forth between private and public duties -- and at a major international showcase no less. As Canadian citizens, we find both scenarios intolerable."

Did You Know?

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If You are a Canadian Citizen, Take a Stand!

This type of blatant conflict of interest should not be tolerated at any level, and the fact that Canada's Chief Dental Officer is "wearing two hats" is simply unacceptable.

To date, Charlie Brown, president and founder of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry and national counsel of Consumers for Dental Choice, has sent two letters to Margaret Kenny, director general for Environment Canada, asking for Cooney's severe conflict of interest to be addressed -- but no responses were received.

Why does the Canadian government appear to be ignoring this issue by not responding to legitimate concerns regarding one of its chief officers? There are questions that need answers. As Brown stated in his second letter to Kenny:

"A lobbyist for FDI is making critical decisions about their dental care; the FDI position is give amalgam to anybody, as long as it continues quick-and-easy profits for the pro-mercury faction of dentists. Health Canada, since 1996, has said no amalgam for children and pregnant women. So is Cooney enforcing the Health Canada position or the FDI position in his high-salaried role as Chief Dental Officer?"

Again, to date there has been no response from the Canadian government addressing Brown's letters or the petition to have Cooney removed from his position.

So we need your help.

Canadians have a right to a Chief Dental Officer who is, as the petition stated, "not hopelessly entangled with an amalgam seller-trade group partnership that is working to protect risky -- albeit profitable -- mercury products."

If you live in Canada, please write the following government officials to let them know you will not support a Chief Dental Officer who "wears two hats" on behalf of an industry-funded lobby group.

You can contact:

Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment
Email: Minister@ec.gc.ca
Phone: 819-997-1441
Fax: 819-953-0279

Mailing Address:

The Honourable Peter Kent
Minister of the Environment
Les Terrasses de la Chaudière
10 Wellington Street, 28th Floor
Gatineau, Quebec
K1A 0H3

Margaret Kenny, Director General
Chemicals Sector, Environmental Sustainability Branch
Environment Canada
Email: Margaret.Kenny@ec.gc.ca

Mailing address:

Ms. Margaret Kenny, Director General
Chemicals Sector, Environmental Sustainability Branch
Environment Canada
351 St. Joseph Boulevard, 12th floor
Gatineau, Quebec K1A 0H3

Ideally, express your opinions and thoughts on this issue from your heart to form a passionate, empathetic and individualized response. But some points mentioned in the petition and Charlie Brown's letters that you may want to mention are below:

  • We request that you address the problems raised by Dr. Cooney's use of his government position to lobby for FDI and to undermine stakeholders opposed by FDI.

    We need assurances that Dr. Cooney will not participate in the delegation's decision-making, that he will not be permitted to attend the third conference to put together the environmental treaty on mercury and intersessional meetings with his incompatible "two hats," and that the damage he has already inflicted will be redressed.
  • We taxpayers do not know – but would like to know – if Cooney drew his government salary during this 10-day negotiation session. Did he forfeit his salary? If not, why did we pay a man to lobby against the government, all the time using his public position to maximize his impact?
  • We taxpayers do not know – but would like to know – who paid for this trip. Was Cooney at this comfortable Japanese resort as a guest of the World Dental Federation? If so, how could this not be "accepting economic benefit," prohibited in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service?

Please do let your voice be heard!

Grassroots activism is making a difference, and it will continue to do so because of dedicated readers like you!

As Brown said:

"Canada's an incredible country and it's time their leaders in Ottawa stood up to the pro-mercury amalgam industry, which they're not now and not doing at all."

The other action you can take is to contribute to Consumers for Dental Choice. So far they've ensured that amalgam is listed in the first draft of the international treaty as one of five products to be addressed, and they are introducing strategies for phasing out mercury fillings while exposing the risks of implanting mercury into human teeth.

With the third round of negotiations right around the corner in October 2011, now is the time to act to make a difference and help make mercury use in dentistry a practice of the past.

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