The new trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, looks like good news for Canadians. For starters, it will give us access to the largest trade zone in the world.
But there is a menace lurking in the fine print. That menace is tainted milk, which will soon be leaking across our border, contaminating our food supply and endangering our kids.
If you aren't worried about tainted milk, then you haven't caught up with the CBC, which has been running a raft of stories on the issue. The TPP will open only a sliver (3.25 per cent) of Canada's protected dairy market to foreign producers. But that's enough to get alarmed. Some of that foreign milk might come from cows treated with bovine growth hormone, commonly known as rBST, which is not allowed in Canada. You and your kids might drink it and get cancer.
That, at least, is the nightmare scenario being peddled by a man named Shiv Chopra, who has become a folk hero of various anti-science environmental groups. Dr. Chopra, who was fired from Health Canada in 2004, believes that evil multinationals have corrupted governments and endangered our food supply – and our health. In an interview last week with Carol Off on CBC's As It Happens, he warned that the introduction of milk from treated cows would cause "huge harm" not only to the dairy industry but also to the entire agricultural industry. "We will be drinking and using milk from sick cows," he said. "The damage that occurs to the milk, to the cows, ultimately it translates into human health hazards. As a result, you not only get the [bovine growth hormone] but also an insulin growth-like hormone that causes cancer."
Not coincidentally, the Canadian dairy industry – which has been fighting tenaciously to keep our market closed to competition – is no fan of foreign hormones either. The industry proudly proclaims that its cows are hormone-free, and therefore, by implication, that our milk is purer and better than imported milk.
As for Dr. Chopra's claims, they're junk, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and Health Canada. They have all stated that milk from treated cows is safe for human consumption. The hormone known as rBST, which stimulates their milk supply, is the same hormone that is naturally produced in their pituitary gland. It is not present in the milk and has no direct effect on humans. Milk from treated cows is virtually identical to other milk. It is legal and and considered safe in the United States. and many other countries. Canada already allows the sale of imported products made with milk from treated cows.
The use of rBST is, however, banned in Canada, the European Union and other countries. This is not because of the effects on human health (there aren't any), but because of the possible effect on animal health. (Treated cows may be more prone to mastitis.) Proponents argue that these effects can be managed, and that the reduction in the number of cows needed for milk production has important environmental benefits.
Dr. Chopra is widely celebrated as a "whistle-blower." But a more accurate label for him would be "crank." He is among a small but noisy group of activists who peddle environmental health scares and anti-GMO horror stories. He is also a prominent anti-vaxxer who says vaccines are not only useless, but harmful. During his years as a government employee, he launched repeated human-rights complaints (some of them successful), and also fought tenaciously against the introduction of new vaccines for common childhood diseases, among other things.
In 2004, Health Canada fired Dr. Chopra and two other scientists for insubordination. They claimed they had been pressured to approve drugs that weren't safe. Then his career really took off. He became a media darling, and started writing books blasting the government-multinational cabals that were injecting harmful substances into our bodies. He even received a Press Freedom award in 2011 for his integrity. He also mounted a lengthy appeal of his dismissal, but an independent labour board declined to reinstate him.
So no, folks, we do not need to blow the whistle on tainted foreign milk. We need to blow the whistle on junk science, especially when it's given voice by our public broadcaster. Would the CBC care to showcase Dr. Chopra's notorious anti-vaccination views? I suspect not.