Scientists fear for their jobs

Researchers say they've been targeted for speaking out

A Report by DENNIS BUECKERT, Vancouver Sun, 19th November, 2002

Photo by Fred Chartrand of the Canadian Press: Researcher Shiv Chopra
Shiv Chopra is one of the federal scientists facing discipline.

OTTAWA - Two federal scientists say their careers are under a cloud after they raised concerns about the lack of human health data on a product used to promote growth in beef cattle.

Gerard Lambert and Cris Bassude say they were disciplined after requesting data about the safety of implantable ear pellets for cows. "We are experiencing serious problems," Bassude said after a news conference Monday. "We are likely to lose our jobs. But the fact is, we didn't have human safety data [on the new product]."

The pellets contain an antibiotic in combination with several hormones. The hormones promote growth of the animal and the antibiotic prevents infection at the implant site.

"This is a new combination, it has never happened before," said Bassude. "We don't know what's going to happen when a hormone, or three hormones, are combined with an antibiotic.

"What is going to happen to the residues?"

Two other scientists in the Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haydon, are also fighting disciplinary actions for speaking publicly on drug-safety issues.

The use of hormones in food animals is banned in Europe due to health concerns. There's growing concern the use of antibiotics in farm animals could lead to antibiotic resistance in humans.

Bassude and Lambert said they raised their concerns at an emotional meeting with Diane Kirkpatrick, head of Health Canada's Veterinary Drugs Directorate.

Bassude said he was later given a disciplinary letter that suggested he seek psychiatric counselling.

Lambert said he was demoted from his position as team leader of the group responsible for assessing the toxicology of new drugs.

"They said I had poor judgment in raising that issue," said Lambert. "They blamed me for having an opinion."

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