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In Memoriam: Dr. Shiv Chopra, Public Servant

I was speaking out, but it was my duty to speak out.”
Dr Shiv Chopra, September 2017Shiv Chopra headshot

Click here for details of the February 24 Celebration of the Life of Dr. Shiv Chopra in Ottawa

We mourn the death and celebrate the life and lasting contributions of Dr. Shiv Chopra, a strong and vibrant champion of science in the service of the public good. He has left behind a loving family and a legacy of committed, courageous campaigning for justice and accountability. Dr. Chopra was a dedicated public servant who shed light on how our food is regulated in Canada and the dangerous influence that corporate power can have on government decision-making, if public servants are not willing to speak up.

Dr. Shiv Chopra was a veterinary scientist with a Ph.D. in microbiology. He was a senior scientist at Health Canada (Canada’s food safety regulator) where he worked from 1969 until 2004. Dr. Chopra was one of three Health Canada veterinary scientists who spoke out in the 1990s about pressure to approve animal drugs despite their concerns about animal health and food safety. They questioned carbadox, a drug used in pigs, and Baytril, which was used to promote growth in cows and chickens. Most prominent were their concerns over Monsanto’s genetically engineered veterinary drug Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). Their public criticisms of BGH were met with gag orders from their employers at Health Canada but finally led to Senate hearings and a 1999 decision not to approve the drug.

Dr. Chopra defied instructions from his employers not to speak publicly about his concerns, and about the pressure he was under at Health Canada. In 1998, Dr. Chopra and his colleague Dr. Margaret Haydon were interviewed on national television and asked why they thought they were under pressure to approve drugs quickly. Dr. Chopra replied, « Well, what do you think? Money. For multinational companies that produce those things. »

Dr. Chopra and his colleagues Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gérard Lambert were eventually fired in 2004 for insubordination. Dr. Chopra challenged his dismissal in court and continued to fight in the courts for thirteen years, until the latest verdict in September 2017. He concluded, “If today I had won, I would get compensated for my loss of salary. But the issue of public food safety would still remain.”

« These three scientists are perfect examples of public service professionals putting the interests of the public first, ahead of their own interests. They are leading the way in the protection of the public good and they are pioneers in whistleblowing, »  – Gary Corbett, former president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, 2011

He continued to speak out on the wider issues of food and public health safety, including at the invitation of many communities in Canada and internationally, and he set up an organization called the Canadian Council on Food Safety & Health.Shiv Chopra at protest

Dr. Chopra detailed his saga in his book, “Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower” (2010) and some of his work and history is documented on his website http://shivchopra.com/

A summary of what happened in Canada over Bovine Growth Hormone and the role that Dr. Chopra played is posted at https://cban.ca/the-story-of-bovine-growth-hormone-in-canada/

Tributes

“The tragic experience of Shiv Chopra as a whistleblower should be required reading, not just in institutions of higher learning but at every level of government in Canada. His chilling story centre’s on Monsanto’s flagship genetically engineered product rBST, commercialized as Posilac, but more broadly, profiles the ongoing conflict between corporate influence and government policy in Canada. Canada joined most of the rest of the world in declining to approve Posilac for injecting into Canadian dairy cows to increase milk production. For this, Canadians can thank the integrity of Shiv Chopra, and his colleagues Margaret Hayden and Gerard Lambert at Health Canada, despite terrible costs to themselves. It is difficult to see how the public good has been served by the decades-long government effort to stifle the well-founded concerns of these courageous whistleblowers. We must remember, and celebrate, these true Canadian heroes.” – E. Ann Clark, associate professor (ret.), University of Guelph, Canada

“One of the first public events on genetic engineering that I ever organized was with Dr. Chopra almost two decades ago. We invited him to speak about how genetically engineered foods were regulated, but on the day of the event he got a fax, email and registered letter from his employer telling him he could lose his job at Health Canada if he spoke at our event. He spoke anyway – and started a wave of influential events that continue to challenge corporate power to this day. He was astonishingly courageous, committed and persistent. His dedication to his public duty continues to be an inspiration.” – Lucy Sharratt, Coordinator, Canadian Biotechnology Action Network

« I think of him often and admire Shiv’s courage, integrity and tenacity in speaking out on matters of great importance to Canadians — food safety, human health, and well-being of farmers and their cows. He expected the federal government to uphold the laws of our country and blew the whistle with his colleagues when the rules were not followed. » — Peter Dowling, dairy farmer and National Farmers Union activist

« Dr. Shiv Chopra challenged each and every one of us to get active, to organize and hold our regulators accountable. Shiv-ji set an enormously high bar for science in the public service- a bar every single scientist taking a public paycheque ought to strive to achieve. As a mentor Shiv-ji implored me to work with eaters and farmers in Canada and in India to develop direct relationships and work around the broken food system. Together we can fulfill Dr. Chopra’s legacy. His guidance will be missed and faith in our efforts must not be misplaced. » – Jodi Koberinski, 2015 Oak Fellow for Human Rights

« NFU Remembers Shiv Chopra » National Farmers Union, Press Release, January 10, 2017

Whistleblower Shiv Chopra remembered for ‘speaking truth to power’, Ottawa Citizen, January 11, 2017.