The day that whistleblowers are given awards by their superiors – instead of pink slips – would be a miraculous day for public safety. Meanwhile (and that’s a long while at this rate), any support rewarding their brave honesty helps all whistleblowers know the risks are appreciated.
Good news on the affirmation front comes from our neighbor to the north, whose food safety whistleblowers have faced similar obstacles to those of workers in the United States. Last Thursday, the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression honored three public servants with its inaugural Integrity Award for speaking out despite industry pressures. The Lethbridge Herald reports:
Drs. Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert are former Health Canada [public health department of the federal government] scientists who were dismissed for “insubordination” in 2004 after publicly expressing serious reservations about the approval of products they believed would harm the food chain and ultimately threaten the well-being of Canadians.
The trio of scientists prompted headlines in the late 1990s when they went public with claims they were pressured by their bosses to approve drugs despite their concerns about the drugs’ safety for humans. They spoke out against a bovine growth hormone, rBST, which enhances milk production in cows. Their criticism led to a Senate inquiry which resulted in the drug failing to gain approval.
The CJFE award honours “individuals who acted courageously in the public interest without thought of personal gain, and in doing so risked reprisals in the form of threats to their careers, livelihood, or personal freedom.”
Only one of the whistleblowers, Gerard Lambert, was hired back after being fired, for reasons Canadian whistleblower advocate and FAIR executive director David Hutton called “absurd.”
All three were dismissed the same day, after years of resisting “repeated efforts by Health Canada management to pressure them into approving the release of antibiotics, hormones and chemicals into the food supply without the legally required evidence of human safety,” said Hutton. The scientists refused to silence their concerns about rBST (also referred to as rBGH) – a synthetic hormone developed by Monsanto (who eventually sold it to Eli Lilly in 2008) that has not been approved for use in Japan, Australia, the European Union, and Canada, thanks to these integrity award-winners.
The controversial drug is still, however, used in the United States. According to the USDA, 40 percent of industrial dairy farms in the U.S. inject their cows with rBGH so that they produce more milk. Perhaps that number would be even higher had the Health Canada truth-tellers kept silent.
Americans and Canadians alike owe a debt of gratitude to the individuals who give up their livelihoods to protect public health and food integrity. If only whistleblowers were credited for their actions sooner, and in place of the retaliation they more frequently face, then a much more transparent and just food system could manifest. FIC continues to fight for that day to come.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.