Conflict of Interest Rules the 21st Century

1. The ‘Smoking’ Gun

After a century of the tobacco industry successfully blowing smoke in our faces, the wireless industry is adopting the same tactics.

Ah, the joys of willful – and profitable – blindness. This May (2011), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which reports to the World Health Organization (WHO), declared radio-frequency radiation (RFR) a Class 2B Possible Carcinogen. That designation of RFR covers pretty much anything broadcasting in the microwave spectrum, including cell phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless devices. Being in Class 2B places RFR in the same room as other known toxins such as lead and DDT. The irony is, although both of these substances are banned in Canada, our laughably poor public exposure standard for RFR – Safety Code 6 – remains unchanged, with no plans for Health Canada to revisit the code.

According to a recent article in the Barrie Examiner by Kristy Kirkup, Health Canada is quoted as saying: “While there is limited evidence that RF energy may cause cancer in humans, it is not conclusive and more research is required. Health Canada does not plan to update its exposure guidelines based on the IARC classification.” So much for the Precautionary Principle. Apparently Health Canada – like the tobacco industry – wants dead-bang proof before it considers lowering our exposure to a Possible Carcinogen. Big Tobacco got a helluva lot of mileage out of the mantra “more research is needed” decades after the first conclusive studies in the 1950s linking smoking to lung cancer. Not to mention, several billions more in profit.

Of course, many reputable scientists are sounding the warning. “I don’t see how Health Canada can make that assurance,” said Dr. Magda Havas, who researches the biological effects of environmental contaminants at Trent University. “Our current (radio frequency) guidelines in Canada are 100 times higher than the guidelines in Switzerland, in China, in Russia (and) in quite a few other countries. I just don’t understand how they can make that statement with any confidence.” Havas was just one of several international experts who testified before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health last fall that Safety Code 6 is “inadequate to protect public health” and desperately in need of updating to reflect current science.

So what’s going on, when the very governmental body charged with protecting public health refuses to do so? And that, 12 years after a Royal Society of Canada report published in March, 1999 that concluded: “There is a growing body of scientific evidence which suggests that exposure to RF fields at intensities far less than levels required to produce measurable heating can cause effects in cells and tissues.” As community activist Sharon Noble writes: “Even with this report in hand, Health Canada and some members of the Royal Panel who wrote this report, such as Dr. Daniel Krewski, since 1999 have continued to declare that there is no evidence of harm below the level of Safety Code 6.” Could it have something to do with the fact that Dr. Krewski’s research institute, the R. Samuel McLaughlin Centre For Population Health Risk Assessment receives funding from the telecommunications industry?

This isn’t the first time Big Telecom has exerted direct influence over the science, not to mention public policy. Dr. Michael Repacholi, the former head of the World Health Organisation’s  (WHO) International EMF Project and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), has also received funding for his Royal Adelaide Hospital from telecommunications corporations. Repacholi saw to it that international public exposure standards set by the ICNIRP were sufficiently watered down to pose no check on the global rollout of cell phones and other wireless technologies. According to Don Maisch, “In addition to WHO staff, the only other observers that Repacholi invited to the WHO Task Group meeting in Geneva in October 2005 to recommend exposure limits were eight representatives from the power industry. Members of the press were barred from attending.” (Source: Microwave News, October 1, 2005)

And then there’s the nifty industry-government ‘exchange’ program reported on in October 2010 by CBC News reporter Julie Ireton. In this program, high-level telecom executives are invited to work for the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission), which licenses and manages the airwaves. Telus executive Ian Scott was ‘headhunted’ by the CRTC to sit on its board as chief policy adviser to the chair for a year, between the fall of 2007 and 2008, before returning to the private sector. Well, ain’t that cozy? Is it any wonder Canada has the most lax standards for public protection from RFR of any country in the world except the U.S.? As Ireton pointed out, such a program raises serious questions of conflict of interest – that quaint old relic of the 20th century that is in desperate need of a comeback.

2. Conflict of Interest: A Useful Social Principle

In this Age of The Corporation, even as Friedman-esque economics continue to wreak havoc on the global economy, we continue to be bullied by its super-rich adherents. One of the useful societal concepts that have been sacrificed to this unproven economic orthodoxy is ‘conflict of interest.’ According to Wikipedia, conflict of interest “occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other.” Once considered the gold standard of professional conduct, during the past 30 years or so it has been purposely diminished to the point of non-existence as a barometer of business or government ethics.

The advantages to The Corporation for promoting this ethical vacuum are obvious. But for the public it’s a disaster in the making: the ethically untenable situation of having executives from Big Pharma or Big Telecom sitting on the government committees that regulate the very products they’re selling. The motive is simple: to remove any and all obstacles to profit. This is antithetical to the role of government as gatekeeper and protector of public health.

The structure of a publicly traded corporation requires by its charter that it show a profit every 90 days (fiscal quarter) and if profits are down for any reason, angry shareholders want to know why – and how fast obstacles to continued profit will be eliminated. Thus, until such time as we rewrite the law governing corporate charters, there is little to no possibility that we will see any corporate vision governed by long-term values. Health, environment, social contracts, human rights – all are viewed as bottom line detractors from profit. Logically then, corporations view them as obstacles to be removed, not noble goals to be achieved.

We have Dr. Chopra to thank for keeping Bovine Growth Hormone (BVGH) out of Canada. Unfortunately, it cost him his job at Health Canada.

Thus we have the absurd spectacle of Health Canada scientist Dr. Chiv Chopra being harassed by his superiors—and ultimately fired—for simply doing his job: keeping dangerous chemicals out of the human food supply. The chemical in question of course being BVGH or Bovine Growth Hormone, engineered by Monsanto. Using his skills as a trained scientist he determined that this substance was not safe for use in the beef or dairy industry in Canada and saw to it that it was not allowed for use in this country. ( As a result, Dr. Chopra’s scientific career was torpedoed.

The absurdity is compounded by the fact that scientists—in order to work at all—find themselves in the position essentially of corporate contractors. Naturally much lip service is given to “professional codes of conduct,” “scientific impartiality,” and “peer-reviewed reports.” But the simple fact of any workplace is, if you want to work, you have to please your employers. Delivering scientific reports that send out alarms about a corporation’s product is not the way to do that. Just ask Dr. George Carlo, the epidemiologist who headed up the telecommunication industry’s $28 million study on the effects of electromagnetic radiation from cell phones during the 1990s. Dr. Carlo’s reports were studiously ignored, and later, discredited. Like Dr. Chopra, he made the fatal error of reporting results that threatened the multi-billion dollar flow of profits.

Although based on a work of fiction, the film Thank You For Smoking (based on the novel by Christopher Buckley) illustrates these principles beautifully and with a liberal dose of humour. Whether the industry in question produces cigarettes, DDT, PCBs, depleted uranium, Vioxx, or whatever, the modus operandi is the same. The only way to put a check on this dangerous behaviour is to give the principle of conflict of interest some real teeth, publicly fund research institutions and review boards, and rigorously ensure an arm’s-length policy where corporate input into research is concerned. Oh, and while we’re at it, a complete re-write of the laws governing corporate charters would be helpful too. Until then, wireless devices are only the latest money-making, health-destroying scam.

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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2 Responses to Conflict of Interest Rules the 21st Century

  1. Pingback: Do Cell Phone Signals Cause Brain Tumors? | Health Impact News

  2. Thanks to Dr. Havas for her lavish praise of my article and most of all for everything she is doing to sound the alert about the increasing electro-pollution. “The largest biological experiment ever undertaken…:

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