Sunday, June 19, 2005
Sask. Eco-Network
Annual General Meeting
Presentation by Kathy Storrie
I am very glad to be here and to have a chance to talk briefly at your AGM. As you will know from the introduction, I am not a legal expert nor a professional ecologist. Social Policy and in particular health issues were among my interests when I was a member of the Faculty Department of Sociology at the University of Saskatchewan for 25 years. I was a member of the Board of the Saskatoon Community Clinic for seven years and I am active in the Saskatchewan Health Coalition. Both these organizations are very concerned about the determinants of health and obviously the environment is one of them. For example, the Saskatoon Community Clinic has taken up the cosmetic use of pesticides - it got a resolution on this passed by SAHO (SK Association of Health Organizations) last year and it is supporting the movement in Saskatoon to ban pesticides for cosmetic use. I am going to focus on the Federal Government’s plans to amend the Food and Drugs Act. This Act is the foundation of Federal Health Protection Legislation; it governs food, drugs, cosmetic and medical devices. Bill C-28: an Act to Amend the Food and Drugs Act was introduced in the House of Commons on November 29, 2004 and had its Second Reading on February 14, 2005. The Standing Committee on Health held hearings in April. Among the witnesses who were allowed to appear were people from the Canadian Health Coalition, the Canadian Labour Congress, INFACT (Infant Feeding Action Coalition) and the three scientists who were fired for opposing bovine growth hormone in milk and meat, various antibiotics for use in animal feed which leads to the development of antibiotic bacteria and for drawing attention to the BSE risk in Canada’s beef years before the BSE crisis happened. Dr Chopra spoke for Dr Margaret Haydon and Dr Gerard Lambert. What was said then and a lot of background material can be found on the web site of the Canadian Health Coalition,a public interest advocacy organization based in Ottawa: HYPERLINK "http:// The following comments owe a great deal to the very fine work done by Mike McBane, the National Coordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition (see McBane, 2005 cited at the end and the CHC‘s web site). Any inaccuracies are, of course my responsibility. Bill C -28 and its background are examples of what has been happening in the Federal government and its bureaucracies for the past 30 years or more. No doubt, you who are concerned about the environment are very aware of these developments. To put it succinctly: * the protection of citizens and the public good have been generally displaced by the interests of the market; * the principle of accountability has been replaced by secrecy; * the independence of the civil service has been seriously any resistance is usually cut off at the pass and whistle blowers I can document extensively all these assertions but time does not allow for this. I can just illustrate some of them when I discuss Bill C-28. But first, a story about the veil of secrecy - in May, 2005 at its national conference, the Canadian Association of Journalists awarded its fourth annual “Code of Silence Award” to Health Canada. This Award recognizes the most secretive government department in Canada. It is a plaque featuring a padlock and chains but strangely, Health Canada did not send anyone to accept it. The press release describes the ways in which the department, for more than five years, refused any real access to a database of prescription drugs that could harm or even kill Canadians. The department would only release the information in a computer format that prevented deeper analysis. In contrast, the American Food and Drug Administration routinely makes adverse drug reaction data readily available in accessible form on its website, (see “Health Canada Wins 4th annual “Code of Silence Award” on the web site of the Canadian Health Coalition). Bill C-28 is a very brief document which might, at first glance, appear to be entirely harmless. Indeed, during second reading debate the Parliamentary Secretary told the House not to worry. The Bill , he said, is “not related to food safety but is “a technical “ matter“. He added that C-28 is “in line with the ongoing intent of the Government of Canada’s smart regulation initiative and the External Advisory Committee’s recommendation on Smart Regulation”. Mike McBane, comments: “If that is not enough to reassure public health advocates, he (the Parliamentary Secretary) added that Bill C-28 ‘will support ongoing work under the North American Free Trade Agreement Technical Working Group on pesticides ‘to harmonize standards down to the US level‘ “. We need to note that that the Library of Parliament, in its information about Bill C-28, comments that the bill was introduced to the House of Commons with no advance notice or indication as to what it is designed to accomplish (see, search for Library of Parliament, Bill C-28 and see “Commentary”). Mike McBane has analysed “Smart Regulation“. In his view, “Smart Regulation” includes secrecy, managing damage, errs on the side of risk and has a commercial ethic. This contrasts with “Precautionary Regulation” which is transparent, seeks to do no harm, errs on the side of safety and a has a guardian ethic (see the web site of the Canadian Health Coalition, May 9, 2005 and also McBane, 2005). The background to “smart regulation” is the Federal government’s strategy announced in 1994 aimed at promoting job creation and economic growth. This was to be done by “unleashing business energies” and “reducing the regulating burden on business”. Applying this policy to food and drugs, Health Canada argued that the present law must be “modernized” since it has a narrow focus on safety which must be replaced by a focus on risk-benefits. What must be promoted are: genetically modified food, gene therapies, bio-pharmaceuticals, reproductive technology, cloning, life patenting and transplants of animal organs to humans. Who was consulted about what regulatory “market-friendly” changes should be made? You guessed right! The biotechnology, pharmaceutical and food industries themselves. We need to note that another body of law targeted for market-oriented change is the Canadian In October 2003, Health Canada created a proposal, Health and Safety First! and conducted a national consultation and comprehensive review “with a view to replacing outdated statutes with a new health protection legislative regime, better suited to modern technology and society”. The proposal is written in classic doublespeak language; for example, there is something called a “General Safety Requirement” which does not require any evidence of safety! The Health Canada’s document was deconstructed or decoded by the Canadian Health Coalition, (see Risk First, Safety Last! A Citizen’s Guide to Health Canada’s Health and Safety First! A Proposal to Renew Federal Health Protection Legislation). It was roundly criticized by community groups and by all kinds of experts, ecologists, physicians, etc., from across the world. Possibly it is for this reason that the bill that has finally surfaced (Bill C-28) deals with only a narrow range of changes - I won’t go into a lot of detail. Essentially, one of its main features is to permit food with higher than allowable limits of agricultural chemicals, veterinary drugs or pesticides to be sold if this food has been issued what is called an “interim marketing authorization” by the Minister. This mechanism allows products on the market before their going through the regulatory process to assess their safety. These products included food additives for infant formula and genetically modified organisms. Canada does not even have a scientific methodology to test GMOs for human and environmental impact. Canada bureaucrats have used this procedure for 82 products since 1997 despite the fact that by so doing they were violating the Food and Drugs Act! The bill will legalize this practice of issuing interim marketing authorization by bringing it under legislative authority. Each authorization lasts for 2 years by which time the scientific assessment is supposed to be done. Another clause specifically deems all the past violations to be legal, presumably to try to cut down the liability suits which Health Canada faces for allegedly not exercising its statutory duty of care. Right now, the law states that a contaminated or harmful food cannot be sold. Bill C-28 amends this section by stating that food is not considered adulterated if it has interim market authorization and if the substance does not exceed the maximum residue limits set out in the authorization. Mike McBane calls this “hocus-pocus” - adulteration is not adulteration if the Minister of Health says so! No scientific evidence of safety is required. The bureaucrats only have to assure the minister that “there‘s a reasonable certainty that no harm will result” from the consumption of the product in question. The Minister has merely to declare that the adulterated food is safe. As they shop in the supermarkets, consumers will believe that these products have been approved by Health Canada as safe on scientific grounds after thorough testing. We should note that these maximum residue limits are legal limits only - they In his brief to the Standing Committee on Health, Mike McBane cited the case of Estradiol, one of the hormones approved in Canada in beef production. The European Union in 1999 found a substantial body of recent scientific evidence suggesting the Estradiol should be considered a complete carcinogen which particularly affects children and women. It adds about 3% more risk of breast cancer per year of exposure. The EU has said that scientific research shows that there are no threshold levels for a safe use of a carcinogen like Estradiol. The EU through the World Trade Organization asked the Government of Canada for its risk assessment on Estradiol. Health Canada refused to give this and also refused to produce the drug reviewers’ assessment saying that it was “secret”. As McBane pointed out, if evidence is “secret” then it is not science since science is something that can be verified and replicated in the public domain. If the WTO can’t get hold of risk assessments done by Health Canada, what chances do Health Canada’s approval of Estradiol is just one case which demonstrates how inadequate Health Canada’s so-called safety assessments are. The department has assessed as safe known carcinogens, and as safe genetically modified products for whom no known methodology exists to test for their impact on human The Canadian Health Coalition has recommended that Bill C-28 be rejected in its entirety, that the Minister terminate the use of interim marketing authority and return to performing his legal duties under the Food and Drugs Act. He should also acknowledge the inconsistency between his statutory duty in the Food Drug Act to protect Canadians from health hazards and fraud and the Government’s “smart regulations” initiative and its stated objectives of bringing Canada’s health protection regulations in line with trade and investment policies. The Health Coalition also recommends that the Health Committee examine the circumstances surrounding the firing of the three Health Canada scientists from the Veterinary Drugs Directorate after they refused to issue Maximum Residue Limits for known carcinogens and opposed a number of dubious practices on the part of Health There are many questions which citizens can put to the Minister of Health and to Health Canada. Forty such questions are listed in Michael McBane’s book (reference below).
“11 If health and safety came first at Health Canada, why were Department scientists under pressure to approve a genetically modified bovine growth hormone and then gagged and disciplined when they refused to approve the drug without data demonstrating the safety of the product as required by law?” “13 If the food and chemical industries have convinced Health Canada that eating lead is not a health risk, what else are we Comment from Kathy Storrie: I myself saw the Hon. Anne McLellan, the deputy Prime Minister of Canada, declare in front of TV cameras, a few months ago, that the levels of lead presently McBane, Michael Ill-Health Canada: Putting food and drug company profits ahead of safety, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives,"


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