The Insider Story of rBGH
NAVDANIA Address, New Delhi, India, October 1-2, 2008
By Shiv Chopra, B.V. Sc. & A.H., M.Sc., Ph.D.
As a nonresident native of India and votary of Mahatma Gandhi I feel honored to share my thoughts on THE FUTURE OF FOOD; CLIMATE CHANGE; GMOs AND FOOD SECURITY. I have lived out of India for almost half a century. To be invited to speak at this conference is a great home coming for me. While doing so I am delighted to voice my opinions in unison with those of His Majesty Prince Charles – heir to the once Empress of India during whose regime India got reduced to abject poverty. Before that time India was plundered for approximately two hundred years by a disparate group of East India companies from Britain, France, Portugal and Holland. Unless India is vigilant the same history is threatening to repeat itself. The only difference is that the names of such companies are changed to the various multinational corporations producing GMOs to raise foods and drugs. The havoc that these companies are causing as a result is not only to the people of India but also the whole world.
Lest it be forgotten ancient India possessed a glorious past with enormous wealth. The past glory of India was due primarily to its agricultural inventions from many thousand years ago. The cultivation of cow’s milk, cotton fabric and cane sugar for human use stood as India’s gifts to the world since the Indus Valley Civilization. Yogurt, butter, buttermilk and cheese curds were all invented in India. What made all these wonderful inventions possible in previous times was due to intra-species applications of selective breeding of crops and animals in contrast to the present inter-species genetic modification and the resultant GMOs. Interestingly, the previous inventions are presently the subject of globalization and world trade.
For the purposes of today’s presentation I have been asked to concentrate on my personal involvement in the Canadian health risk assessment of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant Bovine Somatotrophin (rBST). The reason rBGH was preferred to be called rBST was to get away from the fact that it is a growth hormone going into milk production and that it might do harm to the health of cows and people. Fortunately, the change of name made no difference from either the point of view of the dairy farmers or the public because except for its manufacturers no one else wanted injections of any substance to stimulate milk production. The mention of rBGH or rBST anywhere in the world brought up images of the worst corporate invasion on the most pristine of food by Monsanto. Ironically, throughout the controversy about rBGH I never had any direct dealings with Monsanto. In fact, my work on this product concerned a different company. It was called Elanco which is an animal drug subsidiary of Eli Lilly Company. Even then, my initial involvement in rBGH review appeared to be relatively minor.
What happened was that at the beginning, at least, four different companies showed interest in developing rBST to stimulate milk production. The impression that they held was that it would increase milk production by as much as fifty percent above the normal yield. However, in time they learnt that it was less than ten percent. More importantly, by the time it was readied to be licensed by drug regulatory authorities few, if any, farmers wanted to use it because it caused serious adverse effects in the dairy cows receiving it. Regardless, both Monsanto and Elanco were gung-ho to get it approved throughout the world. However, a problem developed between them in the U.S. because being a genetically modified product only one company was allowed to patent it and that patent was awarded to Monsanto. However no such patent law for GMOs or GMO-derived products existed in Canada or for that matter in any other part of the world. Therefore, Elanco applied to conduct clinical tests on their brand of rBST in Canada.
It occurred in early 1988 while I happened to be acting as the manager of Human Safety Division at the Canadian Bureau of Veterinary Drugs. The attitude that most regulatory agencies held at that time about GMOs and GMO-derived products was that these were substantially equivalent materials that exist in nature and as such there should be no need to put them through the usual health risk assessment for regulatory control. I disagreed. I felt that even the natural rBST, if it were to be utilized to stimulate milk production, should be tested to ensure that it would pose no health risk to people. Consequently, in regard to the rBST application from Elanco I requested this company to conduct experiments to show that their product would not induce the production of any other hormones in laboratory animals such as rats. The hormones that I requested them to test for included insulin, thyroxin and progesterone. However, an argument that I faced from the company and my colleagues within Health Canada was that even if rBST appeared in the milk it would do no harm to consumers because being a protein hormone it would be digested away in their stomach without getting into the blood stream. In that case, I suggested that it should be demonstrated to be so via immunological tests in experimental rats.
Nine years passed since I requested for this information to be produced by Elanco. Meanwhile, pressure kept building to pass rBST for both Monsanto and Elanco without having to conduct the tests that I requested. We were now in 1997. I had been working at Health Canada by this time for twenty-eight years. Never in all these years did I receive a single promotion due to rampant racial discrimination against nonwhite employees of this department. I took this matter up in court against the Government of Canada in care of Her Majesty the Queen and lo and behold I won. As a result, I was given a temporary four months appointment as the manager of an animal safety division reviewing rBST and other hormone preparations to be used in food-producing animals. It was during this period that I came under intense pressure from upper management to pass whatever products that any companies requested Health Canada to approve. All I can say in retrospect is that I refused to comply and as a result got into serious difficulties with them to the extent that eventually in 2004 I was discharged from the post that I held for thirty-five years on a charge of insubordination which I am currently contesting in court as wrongful dismissal.
As for rBST approval by Health Canada, the matter reached the Canadian Senate where it was dissected and debated for many months by dozens of witnesses, including me and my colleagues, and eventually rejected to be passed in 1999. Furthermore, with what happened in Canada emboldened EU parliament to actually ban it from being used in its member states in 2000. The only major country that approved it was the Unites States for Monsanto but not for Elanco in 1993. Some of the other countries that passed the Monsanto brand of rBST, even before the U.S., included Bangladesh, Pakistan, Ukraine Republic, Chile and South Africa. I understand no brand of rBST was approved in India. Bravo, India!
In more recent years Monsanto faced a huge resistance from the U.S. consumers of rBST-induced milk. So much so that despite the covert assistance from USFDA Monsanto threatened to sue anybody and everybody that wished to label any milk or milk products to be rBST free. It was a bluff that failed to materialize. The latest news on this count is that Monsanto has decided to sell the rBST part of its business to its archrival Eli Lilly Company for three hundred million dollars. This was the lead company that starting in 1997 lobbied hard to get me removed from Health Canada and eventually got their way in 2004. The reason they wanted me to be removed was not only because I was opposed to pass their rBST but also several other products of questionable safety for food-producing animals. The charge that Health Canada employed for my dismissal was insubordination.
In terms of food production Canada is the most blessed country on earth. With vast tracts of arable land, immense supply of fresh water and a very sophisticated farm population it could produce the healthiest and most abundant food supply. However, it does not. The food that Canada produces is considered internationally to be the most contaminated. While rBST was not allowed to be used in this country for dairy cows concoctions of various other hormones continue to be fed and injected to stimulate meat production in beef cattle and pigs. Furthermore, farm animals of every type are fed and injected many different antibiotics to increase meat production. In addition, almost all meat-producing animals are fed on diets containing dead animal wastes obtained from slaughterhouses. Finally, food crops which farm animals and people consume in Canada are grown from pesticide-dependent GMOs.
With some exceptions these products are not allowed to be utilized in any food-producing animals in E.U. countries whereas U.S. and Canadian governments hold a different view. Hormones, antibiotics and slaughterhouse wastes continue to be utilized in both these countries. As a result, litigations have been going on in the World Trade Organization where parties accuse each other of causing trade barriers without producing the necessary scientific evidence. However, the fact is that hormones used in beef stimulation have been shown to be complete carcinogens, meaning that they can initiate and promote cancer. Similarly, non-therapeutic uses of antibiotics to food-producing animals are not allowed in EU countries whereas in Canada and U.S. huge amounts of many different antibiotics continue to be used on Canadian and U.S. farms. Antibiotic use in farm animals is known to cause antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens, such as E. coli, Salmonella, VRE, MRSA, Campylobacter, Clostridium difficile and other organisms and because of which many of these organisms are no longer treatable with any known antibiotics. Slaughterhouse waste is also completely banned in E.U. countries whereas these materials continue to be fed back to food-producing animals, including cattle, pigs, poultry and fish, in Canada. The feeding of slaughterhouse wastes can cause Bovine Spongiform Disease (BSE) in cattle and meat consumption from thus infected cattle can cause Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD) in people.
All these practices are described in my book. Titled: CORRUPT TO THE CORE: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower it is to be released as soon as I get back to Canada in the next couple of weeks. The point that I make in this book is that there is enough food for everyone to eat but, as Mahatma Gandhi said, it will never be enough to satisfy greed. For instance, according the Economist of August 2, 2008, the number of farmers in the U.S.A. is one million whereas in India it is two hundred million. Much of the food that those one million U.S. farmers produce is from pesticide dependent GMOs made by multinational corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, Pfizer, Syngenta, BASF and others. Now, the farmers are being enticed to turn food crops into producing the so called green fuel ethanol to cause road rage and climate change. The only solution to this madness is not to allow GMOs to produce any crops and cloned animals for food. Everything that people eat must be organically grown and the simplest way to do that is not to allow any of the following five substances from entering any food production:
- Rendered Dead Animal Wastes
I refer to this approach to food production as the FIVE PILLARS OF FOOD SAFETY. In doing so, all food would automatically become organic. I feel that as the children of God and citizens of the world people must have the right to eat and feed their families the food that nature intended and not what GMO companies are forcing them to swallow. Finally, I would like to stress that small farmers of India and those of Canada are under similar pressures to yield their farms and livelihood to factory farming which must be resisted at all costs by the governments of both these countries. In doing so, they will help to save the health and livelihood of their citizens. If, on the other hands, any governments refuse to follow these principles of food safety people all over the world may need to resort to the type of salt march that Mahatma Gandhi undertook to bring the British Raj to its heels.