This is an interview with Dr Bert Mitchell, OAC’60 and OVC’64 conducted by Dr. Dick Julian, OVC’52 on Oct 14, 2010 for the University of Guelph Alumni Association, Alumni-in-Action Oral history Project
D - To begin Bert can you describe your family life, where you grew up and your primary and secondary school education.
B - Well thanks very much Dick and thanks to the Alumni Association for organizing this interview. It is certainly my pleasure to participate. I was born in Listowel, Ontario in 1936 and attended a local primary school, a single room schoolhouse. Some years we would have a dozen or 13-14 students and I remember one year there were 8 students in the entire school covering all grades 1 though 8 and one teacher. That=s where I got my primary education. I didn=t learn a whole lot or at least I don=t remember rather a whole lot about that except that I had the understanding that I had the ability to memorize certain things. I did very well at memorizing verses of the bible. I excelled in that school in that regard. So from there I went to Listowel District High School which had just become a consolidated high school and they were starting to use busses to take rural students to town. The busses that were in use in our part of Perth County were either Ford or Chevrolet 4-wheel drive army trucks made over to travel the side roads and concessions in snow with wood bench seats and we just hung on and there was a little heater up by the motor but that was it and we bounced around and usually got to school on time, although every now and again in the winter time, I remember in one case in particular were we became solidly stuck in the snow on one concession and it was 11 o=clock when we got to school. Listowel District High school was an interesting experience for me. I learned some things about myself there and enjoyed playing football and basket ball and intramural sports. I was involved in the drama club and participated in the production of the Red Mill and that sot of thing there and came to appreciate some of my High School teachers very much. A red headed teacher by the name of Miss Jackson was very important to me in learning mathematics and algebra, equations in two and 3 unknowns. She taught that thoroughly and well and I really appreciated her contribution to my life as a result of those early learning skills in algebra. I recall a geometry teacher saying at the end of grade 12 that you’ve learned all there is to know about geometry and I couldn’t believe it. That was the first time anyone had ever said to me “you have learned all there is to know”, really interesting, rather surprising. So when I came to decide what I was going to do after grade 13 one of my teachers said “what about Guelph, OAC, you’re a farm boy”. I didn’t have any thing like a Guidance Instructor at that time and my family wasn’t into this sort of thing. I borrowed fathers car and drove off to Guelph in early September there and asked the Registrar over at OAC if I could get in, and he took a over my education there at Listowel at said you can’t get in, no your not eligible you don’t have a foreign language. I didn’t argue about that I just went back home and decided what I was going to do and out of that and going in and talking to the Principal at the HS decided that I would follow the French teacher around in the high school for a year. So for September, October, November and December I took grades 9 to11, French grammar and literature and followed her around from one class to another doing more or less well and then from January on until trying the exam I took Grades 12 & 13 French Literature and Grammar. So this was an experience I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone, but I ended up passing those courses and came back and applied to Guelph the following year, fully credentialed I thought, only to learn that they had discontinued the French requirement. Anyway I have since forgiven the Registrar for that. In my first year at OAC I was housed in a room with two other individuals and had really quite a entertaining fall term with not much study at all when I came back after Christmas I found that there were several of my classmates standing around looking at the array of marks. At that time the grade averages were arrayed top to bottom and were posted behind glass over in Johnson Hall and these classmates of mine were looking at these OAC’60 results there and one of them said “below about here, they won’t be around next fall” and I happened to be down in that part of the chart. So I didn’t say anything but I went down, after thinking about this, to see the Dean of Men, Ian White, and Ian said well the first thing “get out of that room where you are with two others” so I moved into another room with another classmate who was by himself. That was Pat Hamilton, a Jamaican. There had been two in there but the other person had left school. There were 13 Jamaicans in OAC’60 class and he was one of them. On in January when I was out continuing to socialize and returning to the room at 9’ocock at night, I would find him reading, he was actually studying so he provided a roll model of study that I hadn’t appreciated when I was in high school and so I began to apply myself and did quite well by spring, increasing my marks and after that there wasn’t any problem academically in OAC or OVC. I took the Animal Husbandry option at OAC met interesting professors during that period and I was a member of the dairy cattle judging team and the livestock judging team. We travelled to Chicago and Waterloo, Illinois and I did well in judging Holstein cattle and that sort of thing, body type and conformation. By the time of my graduation from OAC I simply said in the survey done where they asked each prospective Graduate what they planned to do, I said ‘undetermined’. A few other did but most of the graduate knew that they were going to be teachers or go on to be engineers or some other pursuit, as for me I was unsure. Over the summer I decided I would begin a PhD programme and started into that by designing a study that would evaluate quality of hay and production of milk and started collecting materials to do that harvesting hay at different times and storing it on campus there.
D - Bert, who was your Professor for that programme?
B - Bruce Stone, Dr. Bruce Stone and thanks for that question. On in August and September though I became uncertain about pursuing a PhD degree because I couldn’t see from that that I would not end up some how, some way, teaching students or others and I did not have the sense at that time that I wanted to be a teacher and one day I simply walked across the road to the Ontario Veterinary College in late August or early September and inquired if there was any space in the incoming class. (actually I hoped to be going into the class that was graduating in 1964, and to be joining the second year) to learn what the credits would be, and they said I could enter second year, so I did that entering the class of OVC’64 and went on to graduate there in 1964. During those years in veterinary school I was Director of Curtain Call, active on the Student Union, the most senior position I had there was Treasurer of the Student Union, Nigel Palmer was President one of those years. Over the course of those years I gained the experience and contribution to be presented with the McGillvray award for leadership as an undergraduate. I was surprised about receiving that award and appreciative then and later my recollection of having received the award for undergraduate work while I was studying at OVC.
D - Did you make many friendships that you kept over the years at OVC?
B - Yes, there are a number of individuals that I keep in touch with still. Ed McCall of Indian Head, Saskatchewan, Burn Rathwell who was in practice in Saskatchewan and worked for Ag Canada for some years, he lives now in Northern Saskatchewan, Sig Olafson in Calgary and Marian Martin. There are really quite a number of classmates, Vic Parks, – I probably shouldn’t be mentioning all these names because I had other friends and I probably will neglect to mention one of them, so my apologies for that, Warren Stables in London and others.
D - What did you do over your summer vacation? What did you work at over those periods of time?
B - During my OVC years I worked in the poultry pathology laboratory there with Carlton Giles and Lloyd Spenser and I, with Dr. Ferguson and Dr. Connell part of those years as well. My preceptorship was with Dr. Gerhardt Hess near Kitchener and I also participated in the practice with his father more in downtown Kitchener.
D - You mentioned receiving the McGillivray award. Did you receive any other awards at graduation?
B - That is the only one that comes to mind, Dick.
D - So after graduation?
B - Actually, I was hired by the Ralston Purina Company prior to my graduation and that was to work in the St. Louis, Missouri Pathology lab. They had about ten veterinarians on staff and over the course of the summer of 1964 I was able to acquire an alien registration card from the US embassy in Toronto, so in late September of ’64, Mary my wife and my young infant son and I travelled to St Louis to begin work there for Ralston Purina. I worked for that company there for 18 years, including my time there as Director of Research. I’m very pleased and happy about my both experiences there with Ralston Purina in St Louis and travelling around the country, around the world actually, to some of their operations there and with the city and county. It was great place to raise our children and we enjoyed that very much. Just one antidote to buttress the argument about the fine organization - we arrived in St Louis in September of ’64. My father–in-law was killed as the result of an automobile accident about March or April of 1965. We were just getting started in our economic life there in St Louis at that time and the call had come in about the death of my father-in-law to Ralston Purina, because Mary and David couldn’t be reached immediately at the house, so they called to the office and I was away out of the office at that time and when I came back my boss had purchased flight tickets for Mary and David and I to fly to participate with my mother-in-law in the services of my father-in-law. So I asked about the expense of that and he said forget it, don’t worry about it. So it was very much of a family oriented organization and we have many friends and continue to have many friends in that group of colleagues.
D - A company that took pride in looking after its employees.
B - It sure did. I might talk a little bit about my career there what we did at Purina. I started out in the pathology lab there and primarily autopsying laying hens but there were a variety of chickens and turkeys and a few pigs and food producing animals exclusively came in to the laboratory there and it was a great diagnostic experience. We had little paraffin setting and slicing device so you do H&E sections and we did serology for poultry disease. After a couple of years of that because I was interested in research (this goes back to my being interested in research leading to a PhD and abandoning that) I still had this interest in research. There was a research group at Ralston Purina composed primarily of Nutritionists but there were also a group of Veterinarians in a research capacity. These veterinarians evaluated health products that were sold through the Purina dealer organizations. Under both Canadian and US drug laws, drugs need only to be shown to be more effective than untreated control animals. After a period of time and many different drugs on the market and you have a variety of drugs to chose from to treat the same illness it became important to Purina to carry out these evaluation and comparative evaluations of the effectiveness between and among drugs and select those we calculated would be most effective when used by our dealers and the producers that were using our feeds. So ended up in my Purina career being Director of that research group with about 30 employees and a test facility at Grey Summit, were we induced salmonella infection in pigs for instance, and treated them with drugs to determine which was the most effective, and other disease such as that. We also had a large rat colony as a matter of interest one of the things that Ralston Purina sold was rodenticide bait and when I got to thinking about how we were evaluating those baits and observed that the tradition was that these baits would be evaluating using white laboratory rats, Charles River rats. We would buy them by the dozens and use them as the experimental model and I wondered about might there be any difference in taste preference between a white lab, inbred strain of rat and the wild Norway rat, so we began the process of trapping wild Norway rats garbage dumps out of local or wherever we could get them. We found in fact that the taste preference of the wild Norway rat were quite different from the white rat, so we built a colony for rearing wild Norway rats there on that facility, which is a matter of digging corrugated iron roofing material into a circular area, like a silo, and installing those panels 4 feet into the ground because Norway rats only burrow about two and a half feet maximum. We held them inside and when we needed rats we simply trapped them out of this enclosure and use them for the rodenticide feeding studies. Anyway that’s sort of an aside, but quite interesting when we were going through that. After 18 or 17 years in St. Louis I was interested in a larger experience. There was a good bit of public health consideration at Ralston Purina but I had been asked a couple of times to compete as Director to become Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs in Ottawa and finally I decided I would see if I could compete for that position in Ottawa. This is was the senior position and I was successfully recruited for that and in charge of the organization that evaluated and approves drugs used in animals and medicated feed.
D - But not biologics?
B - But not veterinary biologics. That’s handled by a different organization, Agriculture Canada. I was not in charge of that at all, although we had a close working relationship with the likes of Doug Alexander there.
D - That’s Dr. Alexander. He was a classmate, that’s why I was asking.
B - OK. Well Doug and I knew each other very well and met frequently to harmonize where necessary the issues we were dealing with, all having to deal with health of animals but in my case from a medicinal standpoint and his from a biological standpoint. So we had some interesting enforcement actions from a public heath standpoint when I was in Ottawa. During that time we learned from here at the University, from Bill Black and others of the extended withdrawal time that was necessary for animals treated with Chloramphenicol and the amount of Chloramphenicol that was around the injection site long after it seemed that the Chloramphenicol had been eliminated elsewhere from meat in particular meat producing animals and we knew also from the literature that the inter-ocular ointments used in people resulted in enough Chloramphenicol leaking down the Eustachian tube and into the digestive tract that it produced an aplastic anaemia in a few individuals. When we crossed calculated the deposition of Chloramphenicol from injection sites in a steer with that getting into the digestive tract from these ocular ointments they were equivalent or perhaps higher from meat, and with that public health justification we went about the process of withdrawing approval for Chloramphenicol in Canada.
D - Just the injection form of Chloramphenicol or the oral use as well?
B - We withdrew all uses in food producing animals.
D - Because we used to recommend the use of a lot of Chloramphenicol in poultry and that would all have been oral Chloramphenicol.
B - So all formulations were withdrawn, which is a good point. Why would we withdraw the formulation in poultry when it wasn’t being injected, but actually we found that some of that powder being made up into injectable and being injected, so from that knowledge we decided we had to act against all forms for approvals in food producing animals. That was very controversial because Chloramphenicol was one of the most effective broad spectrum antibiotics against many animal diseases. The withdrawal of this drug, there were 139 different formulations on the Canadian market, took perhaps a year and a half and took place at time when there was criticism in the US of Canadian hog exports to the US. One of the arguments being cast against Canadian pork products was that they were being raised with the benefit of Chloramphenicol. It was an advantage, an unfair advantage, for instance farmers in Iowa were alleging to pork produced in Canada. So it was this combination of Public health plus the trade issue that brought that withdrawal of Chloramphenicol to a successful conclusion. I’m somewhat doubtful that we could have handled it alone on the public health issue alone, but when the trade element came into it as well and the interest in being able to continue to export, particularly pork and beef products to the US were successful in making that withdrawal.
D - Did you ever come across George Fredrick in the Ottawa labs? I think maybe he was on the human side. He was a classmate as well. He got into no end of trouble trying to oppose introducing some drugs for human use, but he may have been on the right side of the argument. I don’t know that.
B - I don’t recall that name. One of the Public Health actions that I’m pleased about during my Ottawa years has to do with intra-mammary infusions drugs. There were some 30 of these which had never been approved from the standpoint that milk withdrawal studies had not been done on the formulations. There were 6 or 8 different intra-mammary infusion products that were fully approved and had milk studies so that the milk withdrawal time on the label was accurate. If you withheld milk for 72 or 96 hours what ever it was, you could be sure that there was no antibiotic residue getting in the milk. In the other products, some of them had extended withdrawal times, which we found out carrying out of our own studies funded by the Health Protection Branch, and so we took action to withdraw those products from the market. I consulted with – I remember talking to Don Barnum about that one time, and we were talking about penicillin and the reason that the cheese products were not forming their curd was because of penicillin residue in the milk.
D - I make my own yogurt and I sometimes wonder when the yogurt doesn’t set properly if I’m not dealing with antibiotics in the powdered milk.
B - That’s possible I suppose. It’s not supposed to be there.
D - So you were how many years with Ottawa?
B - Six, 18 in St. Louis and 6 at the Health Protection Branch in Ottawa.
D - And you lived right in Ottawa?
B - Yes, we lived in Rockcliff near the airport on Upplands Drive.
D - So what happened to make you leave Ottawa?
B - Well, I had acquired US citizenship when I was in St Louis and as the senior representative of the face of animal drugs in Canada and travelling to international meetings dealing with regulation of drugs and trying to harmonize the national regulations for the approval of drugs between countries I became exposed to many other people including the Director of the Centre for Veterinary Medicine in Washington. He actually recruited me, asked me to apply for one or other a couple of senior jobs that were open in his organization. After giving this some thought and discussions with my wife I decided that I would apply. Eventually I was successful in becoming the Director of Surveillance and Compliance with the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. This was a substantial enforcement job, enforcing proper use of drugs in animals and medicated feeds in the US. I had an organization of 90 people in Washington itself and the equivalent of about 150 full time employees distributed throughout the US in various FDA offices. Those were split into different functions. They were evaluating manufacturing practices in drug firms, drug manufacturers, feed manufacturers etc. There was a broad array of activities going on in that organization. I come back to emphasise Public Health there. You may recall that Clenbuteral which is an anti-asthmatic approved in Canada for use in horse, in fact I wrote, signed the approval when I was in Ottawa, some time in 1984-85, on that drug. It was never approved in the US, but in the regulatory enforcement arena we rely on both evidence, which is something you can find, you can assay, you can look at, you can take a picture of, you can measure and intelligence. Intelligence is very important and it is simply word of mouth. It is someone tattling on someone else. We heard this intelligence over a number of years that Clenbuteral was being used in show animals. These are the State fairs, like in Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Denver stock show, and Kansas City, those big four meat animal show sites. We heard these allegations that Clenbuteral was being used. Clenbuteral is an interesting drug from the standpoint of productivity because it sets down proportionally more muscle than fat, it change the muscle fat ratio in the body. And so gilts and barrows, lambs, etc. would have enlarged longissimuss dorsi muscles and the rumours kept coming that they were being administered Clenbuteral. Clenbuteral is not commercially available in the US and as near as we could tell it was not coming in through the regular shipping channels for drugs, into Los Angeles or New York or Savannah, Georgia. This all came to a head one year when the Director of the Tulsa State Fair called and said Dr. Mitchell you’ve got to something about this. So sort of threw the challenge to FDA to clean up the problem that she was experiencing. She had just that year just held her organizational meeting in January for FFA and 4H clubs in Oklahoma and it is the practice for farms, really large beef farms to support the activities of several 4H students they provide the calf, they provide the feed and the student is the one that lead the animal, taught the animal and took it to the show ring She referred to these individuals as steer jockeys. She said one got up in the meeting and said that we used Clenbuteral last year and we know you tested for it and were going to use again this year. At that time there was only a urine test which wasn’t very good or accurate. So this was a public statement before a couple of hundred people. It was really taking her programme apart to have fraud going on when not all of her students were using Clenbuteral, and it wasn’t approved anyway. So out of that I created an initiative and started with a conference call that involved about 30 chemists - analytical chemists. There were State Chemists, there were Food Safety Inspection Service chemists, laboratory chemists, Agriculture Research chemists and some Food and Drug chemists in a conference call and having shared the formulation and chemical configuration of Clenbuteral asking if we could develop an assay that would support testimony by a US government employee to say Clenbuteral was in that tissue. So we had to get away from the urine assay. We learned that Clenbuteral lodges in the retina of the eye of cattle, sheep and swine, at least those are the ones I know of. It is in very low level for a very long period of time. So could we develop a retinal assay? It would have to be in a carcass of an animal. So by June we were actually administering Clenbuteral to steers to pigs and to sheep and by September we had an assay, a mass spectrometer assay that chemists in the Govtenment would testify in court, under oath that it was Clenbuterol. In October we had inspectors attend the Tulsa State Fair and actually walk with the grand champion, and reserve grand champion steer, barrows, gilts and sheep to the paddock, to the show room and padlock those pens over night. Follow the animals from there to slaughter, actually collect the samples from the animal at slaughter, took the eye balls and put them on dry ice. So this is the chain of custody for forensic pathology enforcement so that everyone along the chain of command could say that specimen belonged to that steer. We found that of those six classes, five of them had Clenbuterol residue in the retina of the eye, so those people that won had their grand prize or reserve had to give them up. We found residues in animals in Colorado and Kansas City as well. So they had to give up, sort of comical I guess, in Colorado they had won a gooseneck trailer, so they had to give up their gooseneck trailer winnings and the grand champion and reserves were presented to next in line.
D - But they also might have received Clenbuterol.
B - Possibly, we don’t know that for sure. We didn’t test those animals, but we have tested animals regularly since and no Clenbuterol. We did find the source too. We found it was coming in from Saskatchewan. They were taking the horse product, dumping out the vials, smuggling it across the border and selling it for very large amounts, but that is a separate action that was taken.
D - Very interesting work, it’s like detective work. So how long did you spend in Washington, and what made you decide to retire?
B - When I was there for 14 years. I should mention, I would like to mention one other thing and that had to do with “mad cow disease” and my role in that. In FDA we were concerned about scrape in sheep, and had proposed rules to prevent the offal from sheep and lamb slaughter going into meat and bone meal, but we could not get momentum on that rule, could not actually promulgate that rule, so it was always a proposed rule. In 1986 we began to hear about the staggering cows in the UK. We sent a couple of veterinarians over there at different times to observe the animals and one US scientist was elected to be an observer on the spongiform evaluation committee for the UK parliament, so we had a widow into their deliberations through his testimony and what he heard from others. And in 1996 after 10 human deaths from what was called a variant Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, variant form. It wasn’t the form that usually found.
D - It wasn’t the form that is found in humans?
B - In humans, correct. Ten deaths- so the SEA (spongiform evaluation committee?) concluded that there was likely a relation between these deaths in people and this disease called mad cow disease in cattle. Given that determination by a scientific panel and our concern of this becoming a disease in the US affecting people, we set about to write rules to prevent the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle and other ruminants We did that with four federal registered publications in 15 months. We had as many as 25 people working on that, lawyers, scientist and writers, during those months. Of course there was a big political component to as well. The National Cattleman’s Association in the US did not want to have any mad cow disease in the US and worked with the Canadian Cattleman’s Association and the regulators in Ottawa and Agriculture Canada. We eventually published a highly harmonized law that prevents the feeding of meat & bone meal to cattle and other ruminants. There has been one adjust to it since, but for the most part that law that was past in 1997 is what in placed there today. So far we had no deaths of this variant form of CJD on the US in any person has not spent an extended period in the UK. We have had one or 2 deaths of individuals in the US in persons who had spent 6 more or more in the UK.
D - Did you have any time to look at what is now called wasting disease in the deer and the elk in NA?
B - Well, I follow that as a matter of interest in the prion diseases. It is a related disease. There was some separate action. Advice to hunters was put out about time, but there has been a lot more learned about those prion diseases in mule deer and elk since that time.
D - Did you ever have conversations with anybody about the disease in mink and where that might have come from?
B - We mentioned mink in the rule, but we don’t have any new information on that. In our literature review, which is extensive in those early central registration proposals, we were not able to go any further and we didn’t carry out any research on it ourselves.
D - It’s a very interesting area and it’s certainly something that is going to be on our minds for along time. So what made you decide to leave the Government and go into private life?
B - Well, sometimes I say that I regret having stopped full time employment, but I had this plan, hatched out some tine away back in my early years, that I would go to school for about a third of my life, that I would work for about a third of my life and I would do something else for a third of my life. So I am in the third part doing something else, which is just as busy as I ever was.
D - Before we go on to that area then, what professional organizations have you belong to and what positions have you held in them.
B - Well I am currently President of the American Association of Senior Veterinarians. It’s a new name for the American Association of Retired Veterinarians. I was also President and various other offices in the Industrial Veterinarians Association, Corporate and Public Practice Veterinarians. I have a whole pile of Awards, Dick.
D - Well maybe you could list the 2 or 3 that are most important. There is little section in the suggestion of topics to cover in interviews about honours, achievements and awards.
B - I certainly recognized year after year with performance awards.
D - That’s over and above your regular pay, salary?
B - In St Louis, Ralston Purina, Heath Canada and FDA, there were people in these organizations that thought my work warranted that sort of recognition and support. My name is on many, many awards and individual awards. Of course with BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, there were two or three awards out of that and recognition from FDA.
D - You mentioned meetings overseas. Were you ever involved in doing work overseas or offshore? Were you involved in having other government asking you to come and help them?
B - No. We attended meetings with the bureaucracy of many countries, but it was in that capacity, in harmonizing drug laws or matters of that sort.
D - Just before we finish this interview I would like ask how you felt about your veterinary and agricultural training and how they influenced your life. How you feel about the education you received.
B - Well, I could not be more appreciative of anything than my education at the University of Guelph. I learned a lot about myself in the OAC years that I didn’t know when I came out of high school. I didn’t have a clue coming out of high school about how much I appreciated talking to groups, to stating an opinion, to outlining a plan and making the plan come to fruition and to completing something like that. At OVC I was delighted with the pathology and the clinical training that I had from there and receiving the veterinary degree. While I freely admit that I have not spayed many animals or treated many shipping fever cases, the veterinary degree has served me incredibly well in the likes of Don Barnum and Norm Fish saying little things in the bacteriology course, whatever number it was about public heath, controlling mastitis, things that you could do like teat dipping and testing for mastitis. Jim Steels has just written a book. Jim is about 96 now, the US, former Surgeon General “One Man One Medicine One Health”. When he started into public life in the US there was no pasteurized milk ordnance, that didn’t come into effect until 1929. I don’t have the details right on the tip of my tongue about Canadian milk laws, but I can’t imagine working in the public heath area without the likes of the pasteurized milk ordnance and the agreement of the 50 states to a common set of rules for handling milk and testing animals for the elimination of TB, tuberculosis, etc. So that interest in PH came from my years at OVC.
D - Back when I was a graduate there was a course in veterinary public health and there were veterinarians employ with many of the public health units. I know several veterinarians who worked in public health units after taking the course in Toronto. When I was in practice in Kenora, I didn’t have the degree in veterinary public health, but I worked in the public health office up there 3 half day a week. You may not know that we have reinstated a veterinary public health course at Guelph, and it’s not just taken by veterinarians it is being taken by people interested in veterinary public health. That’s new this year, the first graduates are out this year. It’s becoming more important, considering all the conditions that we know today, that people pick up from animals and vice versa.
B - Yes, that’s true. Well, I’m glad to hear that. Blake Graham, I’ve rubbed shoulders with him in Florida, and so I am a little bit aware of what’s going on here with the public health thrust and I agree and support wholeheartedly.
D - You have talked to me a little bit in passing about some of the volunteer work you have done during your working life and since that. Perhaps you could say a few words about your interest in volunteering.
B - Well, I did some volunteer work in St. Louis associated with the education of my children bringing animals and poultry, turkeys and that sort of thing to class to demonstrate what these animals and birds were like. So I did some of that, that’s a long time ago. I have been involved in tutoring high school students, math and science. I have also mentioned the American Association of Senior Veterinarians and I’m on a Cemetery Board. Over the last few years, maybe 4-5 years I have put a good bit of effort into the alumni activities at the University of Guelph, particularly as it relates to graduates in the US. There are a large number of graduates of Guelph, OAC and OVC in particular living in the US. For instance the AVMA the American Veterinary Medical Association publishes a resource manual has all the names and addresses, phone numbers, schools of graduation etc. of all its members and if you are a member you get the book or you can look it up on-line. I took the time recently to count the graduates from the OVC who are listed in the AVMA Journal who reside in Florida and the year of graduation is there beside OVC, whatever year is, so you can get an idea whether they are down there in retirement years or practicing and I estimated that 52 of theses OVC grads are practicing in the state of Florida – 52! In Washington where I lived for many years I was involved with all the Canadian university groups, also Canadian Club Washington, DC and learned of many graduates of the University of Guelph, and there must be at least 5000 graduates of Canadian universities in the Washington, DC area. It is just amazing how many there are there. They speak English, the same skin tone, they blend in, they become citizens, they vote, and we tend to loose track of them here at the University. So I’m committed to try to motivate those who appreciate their education and the start of their careers through contributions and donations back to their alma mater.
D - The OVC, the veterinary collage, has always had a very good reputation in the US and Dr Misener in Chicago has put a lot of effort into trying to remind graduates about that and what they owe back to their alumni here in Guelph.
B - Well, Grant is a great model and instrumental in developing ‘Friends of the University of Guelph’ in Chicago. And I was vice-president of that group for a while when we were in St Louis.
D - Would you like to say a word or two about your family. Perhaps your family will be listening to this recording at some point and people that know you might want to know about your family life.
B - OK. I was married to Mary Townsend. She graduated, from Mac in 1960 and attended the Fashions Institute of Technology in New York City. We were married in ‘63 and we moved to St. Louis in, as I said, later in ’64. We have 2 sons. One is a software engineer in Windsor, Colorado. He works for Google. He came to Google through their purchase of Double Click. He created the software for Double Click and the banners that go across the top of your webpage now at Double Click software, so he is a successful software engineer out there. There are 2 grandchildren there and we are quite proud of him in his success, and the times that we have together. My second son is in Boston married with a young child, just past 2 years old now. He works for Mercer, an actuarial firm, and he is involved in statistical analyses of stocks. They are putting together a small brokerage firm in his part of the company that is to be more efficient than any thing we have seen so far. They have some success. It’s not greatly successful yet, but they are doing quite well and he is doing very well. We are pleased with both my sons. Mary, my wife of 35 years, passed away in 1998 from acute myelitic leukemia. We were travelling back from Phoenix, around New Years, Christmas ’96 and we were talking about what we needed to get done early in the new year and one of the things on our list was to get our medical examination. Well she had hers set up and in a day or two and we had a call from the doctor’s office that they got a bad sample. I didn’t know what a bad sample meant. It meant they couldn’t believe the results they got. So they confirmed it on the second sample and we went through (well she died September the 28th, 1998. She went into Johns Hopkins late January) intensive chemotherapy, radiation, whole body radiation, stem cell transfer from her brother, who was compatible. All these were successful medical treatments. What was not successful was controlling microflora infection. Amphotericin was effective in holding Aspergillosis as long as she could use it. When the kidneys no longer could handle Amphotericin they went to the newer Imidazole drugs. It wasn’t long. The cause of death was generalized Aspergillosis. On the necropsy it was everywhere. About the same time, I would say a little earlier that this, Linda Prowten lost her husband. Paul had worked for Imperial Oil in Sarnia and he died of mesothelioma. At that plant they had ruptures in pipes. This is a petroleum cracking plant with insulation around pipes and so it would be ‘all hands on deck’ to stop the leak, re-wrap the pipe, turn off the flow, tear of the old and put new insulation on. Asbestos caused his cancer that was a short illness as well and from a public health standpoint I’ll just comment that about 65 mostly men who worked in that plant over 30, I think 32, have did of mesothelioma – asbestosis! So Linda and I are now married 10 years, this is our 10th year and so life goes on for both of us.
D - Is there any thing else you would like to add Bert.
B - Well again I would just like to reiterate and my thanks for carrying out this interview I think it is a great initiative on the part of the Alumni Association and I really appreciate the opportunity to say a few words on tape.
D - Thank you Bert for doing this interview and we certainly like to hear the stories of a person’s education and their life work. To me, particularly in men, it is a very important part of their existence. Thank you.
D - I have added below the information that Dr. Carlton Gyles submitted with the nomination for Bert Mitchell as OCVAA Alumnus of Honour for 2014. It is not included on the audio.
Dr. George A. (Bert) Mitchell obtained a BScAgr (OAC) in 1960, DVM (OVC) in 1964 and a Business Management Certificate from Washington University, St. Louis, in 1969. Following his graduation from OVC in 1964, Bert worked 18 years for Ralston Purina in St Louis. Until 1967 he was a veterinary diagnostician for commercial poultry, including on-farm visits during investigations in the US and Canada. Subsequently, he held a number of positions leading to Director of Health Industries Research. He returned to Canada in 1982 as Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs, a position he held until 1988. In 1988 he was appointed Director, Surveillance and Compliance and later Associate Director, Policy and Regulations, Center for Veterinary Medicine, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USA. He retired from that position in 2001. Subsequently, he served as a contract Advisor for the FDA on Hazard Analysis Critical Points for animal feeds, and on the Sanitary Food Transportation Act and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. In 2003 he was a Veterinary Expert assisting in the eradication of exotic Newcastle Disease in southern California. In his retirement years Bert has lived in Sarasota, Florida, in the winter and in Peterborough, Ontario, in the summer. He has been busy assisting the University of Guelph alumni affairs and doing other volunteer work.
Bert has a distinguished record of achievement and has brought honor to his alma mater and fellow alumni. His most noteworthy contributions have been to the profession, alumni affairs and community.
Dr. J. L. Williamson, retired Vice President, Ralston Purina, was the person to whom Bert reported at Ralston Purina. Dr. Williamson has kindly provided a letter attesting to Bert’s outstanding service to the company during his years with Purina.
Bert’s work in the public sector was marked by a concern for public health, and the use of epidemiological data and the application of law, to reduce risk to humans arising from residues and infectious agents in animal products. Working at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA, Bert wrote the rules and regulations to prevent the spread of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) in cattle, resulting in prohibition of the inclusion of ruminant protein in ruminant feed. Bert also dealt with the comments received from the public and various interest groups following promulgation of the regulations in 1997. The regulations were based on epidemiological studies in the UK and on concerns about the association between BSE and new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. A reading of the Federal Register shows the thoroughness, clear logic, precision, and attention to detail that characterize Bert’s work. Bert’s activities with the FDA also involved investigation of smuggling and illegal use of the drug clenbuterol by an American and a Canadian veterinarian. This led to a prison sentence and loss of license for the American veterinarian and to loss of license for the Canadian veterinarian. Dr. Ed McCall, a classmate, had first-hand experience of this development and he has written a letter of support in which he records his observations of Bert’s professionalism in handling this case.
During his stay at the FDA Bert received numerous awards in recognition of his excellent service. These included awards for outstanding performance, exceptional creativity, and dedicated service. Bert had a leadership role in policy related to biotechnology and modernization of the FDA. One of the difficult areas which Bert handled very effectively was the response to a recognized threat to public health through the use of fluoroquinolone in poultry. He was also recognized to be highly creative and forward looking in the development of policy on drugs for use in minor species and minor uses. This was done in the US in 1998 – we are still waiting for a similar development in Canada.
Dr. Steve Sundlof, Former Director, Center for Veterinary Medicine, to whom Bert reported at the FDA, has also provided comments on Bert’s contribution to the profession in his role as Associate Director, Policy and Regulations, at the FDA.
On the occasion of his retirement from the FDA in 2001, Dr. Diane Kirkpatrick, Veterinary Drugs Program, Ottawa, wrote Bert and noted that his career had given him “the unique opportunity to impact the regulatory review process in two countries.” She highlighted achievements during his term as Director of Veterinary Drugs in Canada: enhanced regulation of intramammary products for treating bovine mastitis, prohibition of the use of chloramphenicol in food producing animals in 1985, skillful negotiations with the Dairy Farmers of Canada, milk marketing boards and drug manufacturers, and building partnerships with livestock and producer groups, veterinary associations, federal and provincial departments of agriculture, and the Canadian Animal Health Institute. She lauded his efforts to promote exchange of information between the US Center for Veterinary Medicine and the Canadian Bureau of Veterinary Drugs.
Bert was active in a large number of professional organizations and played a leadership role in several of these. For example he has been president of the American Association of Industrial Veterinarians, the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, and the American Association of Senior Veterinarians (President for 5 years); he was Vice-President and Chair of the Outreach Committee, the Canadian Club of Washington, in 2001-2002. He has been a Fellow of the American Academy of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics since 1985.
Contributions to Alumni Affairs
In 1981, Bert hosted the OVC Alumni at the Annual General Meeting of the AVMA, in St Louis. During 1987-1988 Bert was a member of the Advisory Council to the Ontario Veterinary College, a group of experts who provided advice to the College on a range of issues. He has been a member of the OAC '60 Leadership Award Committee and in 2004 he was named Honorary Companion of the University of Guelph, in recognition of his support for the university. He has done a lot more for the university since that time. I know personally that the University leaned heavily on Bert during its campaign for funds for the Science Complex and that his support was impressive. President Alastair Summerlee and then Vice President of Alumni Affairs and Development, Joanne Shoveller, knew they could count on Bert not only for his personal support but also for his leadership in raising funds. Joanne has provided a letter of support. The Alumni Association holds an important annual meeting of alumni in Florida. Bert has been a key figure in organization and support of this activity. Since 2011 he has been Chair, U of G Alumni, Port Charlotte, Florida.
As part of his Florida alumni activities, Bert hosted President Summerlee at his Sarasota home in 2008 and 2013. Since its inception in 2013, the Guelph alumni in Florida have strongly supported the President's Scholarship Award.
OVC 64 is having 50th year reunion celebrations in Guelph on alumni weekend and in Waterton, Alberta, in September. Bert has been the leader of a Committee making the arrangements, putting together a 50th year book, arranging teleconferences, and devoting considerable time, energy and leadership to ensure that everything is in place. Stefanie Sharp from Alumni Affairs has worked with us and can attest to Bert’s contributions.
Bert has always given to his various communities in many significant ways. As a student on campus he was Treasurer of Union Council (the student government in our day) and in 1960 Director of Curtain Call. He coached amateur hockey in St Louis, Missouri, and was a member of the Home Owners Association at Clayton Place, Missouri. In Sarasota, Florida, he was active in the St Andrew Society, and a Leader of Rejuvenation and Modernization, Molesworth Cemetery from 2000 to the present, and Chair of the Board of Trustees in 2012-2014. He was Secretary, Vice-President and 2 terms President of HOA Vineyards of Silver Oak, Florida. He was a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity of Sarasota, Forida, and in 2011 to 2012 he helped to build a 3-bedroom house. He is the volunteer Maintenance Manager for 3.6 km roads beside Lake Chandos, North Kawartha, Ontario.
Mention has already been made of Bert’s work as Director of the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs. Of particular importance to Canada was his work in writing and negotiating the veterinary drugs annex as part of the Canada/US Free Trade Agreement. He was also a member of the Canadian Club of Ottawa.
Bert gave hundreds of presentations to small and large groups in Canada, the US and internationally. The major areas on which he spoke were on drugs for livestock, regulation of veterinary drugs, extra-label drug use, drug residues, drug safety and efficacy, public health, Canadian and US veterinary drug laws. His audiences included veterinary schools, universities, livestock groups, the Canadian Animal Health Institute, the feed industry, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and trade talk participants. He participated in drug issue debates on television and was frequently interviewed by print and audio media.
Bert has contributed to the sciences in a variety of ways, most notably by his work identified under professional activity.