Dr. Dawg

Enemies of the people: CFIA's war on science

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Kristi Miller.jpg

The folks in charge of making sure your food is safe to eat are damping down scientific research to accommodate Stephen Harper’s PR priorities.

And the Canadian Food Inspection Agency isn’t above a few dirty tricks to make things happen Harper’s way.

Fred Klibenge runs a reputable testing lab, which detected the deadly ISA virus in young BC salmon—the same virus that devastated salmon stocks in Chile and Norway. He published his results this past October.

CFIA claims to have retested Klibenge’s samples, and found no virus. They got the word out to the media, with excellent results from their point of view:

“It is clear that we are turning the PR tide in our favour, and this is because of the very successful performance of our spokes at the tech briefing,” CFIA B.C. manager Joseph Beres wrote.

But Fisheries and Oceans officials told the federally appointed Cohen Commission, set up in 2009 to investigate the causes of the BC salmon stock collapse that year, that the samples used by CFIA were so degraded as to make the results unreliable.

In any case, CFIA immediately set to work to discredit Klibenge:

Kibenge and another Canadian scientist also told the federal inquiry they feared their reputations were being threatened after discovering signs of ISA in B.C. salmon.

The revelation triggered an assessment of Kibenge’s independent lab at the University of Prince Edward Island by inspectors from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. It’s one of only two such labs for the virus in the world.

Kibenge told the federal commission in Vancouver on Friday that the way officials behaved led him to believe they were aiming to discredit his work.

“Based on the questioning I got, I sensed that the interest here was to confirm my result was the result of contamination,” he said while under cross-examination.

“The second point was that probably I was doing shoddy science.”

That second scientist referenced above was Kristi Miller, from Environment Canada—remember her? The one gagged by order of her department earlier this year?

Now temporarily unmuzzled as she gave testimony to the Cohen Commission, she didn’t hold back:

Molecular geneticist Kristi Miller, who runs a research lab for the Fisheries Department in Nanaimo, B.C., told the commission on Thursday she has been “alienated” within the department.

She said that began in late November when she revealed to superiors she, too, had detected the virus in B.C. salmon.

…Kim Klotins, who was appearing on behalf of the food inspection agency, added the agency has already begun a process of investigating Miller’s findings. She said staff have run initial tests, which did not corroborate the results.

Well, sure they didn’t. And anything that might contradict their “findings” will be sent down the memory hole:

Miller also noted yet another researcher, Prof. Rick Routledge of Simon Fraser University, came under scrutiny after he made Kibenge’s initial results public. Routledge had collected the fish and sent them to the P.E.I. lab for testing.

She said the CFIA removed all samples from Routledge’s freezer, meaning his work could not continue.

Then, this being Harper’s Canada, add the usual threats to the mix:

She said [her immediate superior] told her she shouldn’t conduct research if she didn’t understand its potential “ramifications.”

That, along with what happened to Routledge’s samples, caused her to feel “some level of intimidation,” she told the commission.

And so we appear to have here a Canadian version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Except that, in this case, scientists just trying to do their jobs are treated as enemies, not by the people, but by the bureaucrats and cover-up artists trying to win a PR war for Stephen Harper. The people—that’s us, folks—are at their mercy: and that, to put it mildly, is not a pleasant thought.

[H/t reader Peedeecee]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on December 18, 2011 11:40 AM.

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