You may remember Dr. Shiv Chopra from my interview with him last year, discussing the problems with the swine flu vaccine. He is truly an expert on this topic, having spent 18 years on vaccines and antibiotics for humans with Health Canada. But he also spent another 17 years in the Human Safety Evaluation of Drugs given to food-producing animals, with the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs.
When it comes to the inner workings of the regulatory authorities that are involved with drugs for both humans and livestock, there are very few people in the world who are more qualified than Dr. Chopra to comment on these issues.
The Not-So-Safe Safety Review Process
In his latter position, which he took on in 1988, the first drug safety review that landed on his desk was that of the recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is used to significantly increase milk production in cows.
The genetically engineered drug was produced by Monsanto, and their competitor, Eli Lily.
"I was concerned," Chopra says, "so I raised some questions, because it was a growth hormone... The questions I raised were very simple, normal scientific questions.
If you're going to give something to food-producing animals, then under the laws of both the countries [Canada and the US], the company must demonstrate that it will produce no harm, ultimately, to people who consume that product.
They said no, they don't want it tested, and there is no need to test it because it's the same hormone, although it's genetically engineered, that the cow produces.
I said it doesn't matter. Even if it's naturally produced hormone obtained from the cows, if you give an excess of it, just like if you take too much insulin for yourself, you can die…
I said, "You must test it in laboratory animals as required under the law." They did not want to test it…"
In fact, Dr. Chopra never received any of the studies he'd requested to make a determination about the safety of rBGH in Canada, and therefore refused to approve it.
The US FDA, however, went ahead and approved rBGH for use in February 1994, despite nationwide protests by consumer groups.
"… The pressure from my bosses, all the way going up to the top and out into the political circles of the government bureaucracy, under the prime minister, they were saying "Just pass it because the U.S. has passed it," Chopra says. "So the pressure went on and on and on until I blew the whistle in 1997."
What did the US FDA base their decision on, considering that Chopra on the Canadian side had been so unsuccessful in receiving the safety tests and data he needed in order to make a determination?
That's a great question, especially in light of what Dr. Chopra discovered next.
Dr. Chopra's Concerns Turned Out to Be Right
While producing a department ordered report on rBGH in 1997, called the Gaps Analysis Report, the team discovered that the data he'd requested back in 1988 had in fact been produced by Monsanto, but he'd never gained access to it.
And, Monsanto's tests confirmed Dr. Chopra's initial fears.
The tests showed that rBGH increased insulin-like growth factor in rats, increased thyroid activity, and produced effects in the testes. (He had also requested tests in female rats to check for effects on the ovaries and progesterone, however those tests were never performed.)
"The matter then exploded in Canada. I was hauled before the Senate Committee on Agriculture with my colleagues. We had to testify under oath… This is the beginning of my trouble and exposure of Health Canada, and exposure of the U.S. -- what the U.S. did; how it happened," Chopra says.
Our Only Line of Defense Against Harmful Drugs are Often Ignored, or Worse…
Part of the "trouble" Chopra is referring to occurred in 2004, when he and two of his colleagues were fired by Health Canada on charges of insubordination.
" We're still in court for wrongful dismissal," Chopra says. "… Insubordination means that you refuse to work. We didn't refuse to work. But we refused to pass drugs which we thought should not be passed. The courts will have to decide whether we were insubordinate or not."
This is a fascinating commentary on the entire system of drug approvals, and a testament of how the system that is designed to protect public health, whether in the US or Canada, simply does not work anymore.
Again and again, we see this repeating pattern: when concerned scientists who really understand the issues voice their concerns, they're oftentimes fired.
They're dismissed because they interfere with the collusion between government and these large multinational corporations whose primary intent is to increase their profits – not to serve the public health.
The fact is, as Chopra describes, the ONLY safety stop we have are the scientists reviewing the data provided by these corporations. Once they pass it, everyone assumes the drug is safe, and more importantly, politicians and the corporations themselves are off the hook.
The health of tens of thousands of consumers depend on them to ask the right questions, and make the right judgment call.
The Canadian system is perhaps even worse than the US, as Canada only performs paper verification and doesn't do any testing of their own on these products, which the US has the capacity to do.
Either way, essentially what we have now is a politically run system where companies do NOT have to prove the safety and efficacy of their product in peer-reviewed scientific literature.
All they have to do is manipulate the regulatory authorities to approve their product, and they can then use that approval as proof and documentation -- rather than the actual science -- that their product is safe!
Dr. Chopra's book, Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, tells the entire sordid story of what happens within our regulatory agencies, and it's not a comforting picture.
How a Scientist Can Be Pressured to Relinquish His Ethical Obligation
So, how exactly does this manipulation work?
Dr. Chopra explains:
"At every election time, the pharmaceutical companies, slaughterhouses, all these mega companies get together and bring pressure on the politicians, because they make political donations and so forth… And there are registered lobbyists who even get jobs inside the cabinets -- like Michael Taylor at the U.S. FDA.
There were people like that in Canada as well, working in the Minister of Health's office and pressuring, "Where is this product?" It's that kind of pressure, [it's an] incestuous relationship between corporations and the government.
The public just assumes that government is looking after them; they assume everything is alright. If an individual scientist like me blows the whistle, everybody gangs up and say, "He's not a team player. He's a troublemaker. Get rid of him."
I have letters documented in my book, showing how the companies wrote to the Minister of Health; how they went to the Privy Council; how they went to the Prime Minister saying "Fire Shiv Chopra, and fire whoever stands with him."
That's how the three of us were fired. That is the kind of power these companies have."
The Destruction of Our Food Supply
In this interview, Dr. Chopra covers a lot of ground, including the fact that so much of the foods you find in your local grocery store aren't even real food anymore – and far from safe to eat.
Again we see politicians colluding with big business, which inevitably results in less safety for you and more money for them.
I highly recommend listening to this interview in its entirety, or reading through the transcript, to get the full story.
The use of veterinary antibiotics, for example, has now become a major public health hazard, yet little is being done to curb its overuse.
Seventy percent of all antibiotics used in the US are used in animals raised for food. You need to understand that commercially raised livestock are given these drugs indiscriminately – not because they're sick, but to prevent infections – which are inevitable in factory farm environments, but not in organic farming -- and to stimulate increased growth.
This is one of the driving factors behind the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA.
You are literally ingesting antibiotics every time you eat factory-farmed meat, and such regular consumption of antibiotics is an open invitation to develop hardier antibiotic-resistant bugs.
A variety of hormones are also used to promote growth in animals raised for food, and many of them are 'complete carcinogens,' Chopra says.
"Animals don't live long enough to get cancer. Animals are slaughtered and eaten. But there are leftover hormones in their meat. Some of them are synthetic hormones that have been proven to be complete
carcinogens. In other words, they can initiate a new cancer, or they can promote an existing cancer. They'll do both. Therefore they are called complete carcinogens.
They are in the food supply!
If something is a carcinogen, you cannot determine the safe limit for such a product because a single molecule of such a product can attach to a single cell in the body, and if it's done on a daily basis for life, it can trigger and promote cancer.
So therefore, it takes a long time to develop, and the government is saying there is no proof that it causes cancer…
But how are you going to get proof unless there are lifetime studies? And lifetime studies in animals have not been done. They're not allowed to be done. And the governments are not asking for them."
What Can You Do to Protect the Health of Your Family?
If you listen to Dr. Chopra's interview, it will surely drive home the importance of eating organically-grown and raised foods… Ideally, you'll want it to be from a local source as well, for several reasons, one of which is to ensure optimal freshness.
Chopra's descriptions of factory farming conditions and practices are enough to send chills down your spine and question what's really in the food you eat every day. And then, of course, there's the issue of genetically engineered food ingredients, and pesticides, and processing practices that denature the food, ridding it of all its health-promoting goodness, and the list goes on...
There's no doubt in my mind that if you want to maintain good health, you simply must educate yourself about how the foods you eat are produced. When you compare unadulterated, organic foods to conventional processed foods, there's simply no question that one is real food, and the other is anything but!
You may spend more money on organic food today, but your payoff of good health should more than make up for it – and reduce your health care costs in the future.
For more information about the benefits of organic, grass-fed beef, see this previous article, which discusses several of the benefits of grass-fed over factory farm-raised meats. If you're on a tight budget, but want to improve your diet by shopping organic, this is definitely where you'll want to start, as animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables.
Here's also a listing of great resources to obtain organically-grown, wholesome food:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
- Farmers' Markets-- A national listing of farmers' markets.
- Local Harvest -- This Web site will help you find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
- Eat Well Guide: Wholesome Food from Healthy Animals -- The Eat Well Guide is a free online directory of sustainably raised meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs from farms, stores, restaurants, inns, and hotels, and online outlets in the United States and Canada.
- Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) -- CISA is dedicated to sustaining agriculture and promoting the products of small farms.
- FoodRoutes -- The FoodRoutes "Find Good Food" map can help you connect with local farmers to find the freshest, tastiest food possible. On their interactive map, you can find a listing for local farmers, CSA's, and markets near you.