Chemical Companies Play Victim to Escape Pesticide Oversight

cornfield greenIf you’re concerned about genetically engineered (GE) food and their impact, then you should be concerned about what’s happening in Kauai. Get this: the giant chemical companies in Kauai – the ones that spray pesticides year-round on their GE crops – are now actually playing the victim card. Really, biotechs? Everybody knows it’s the local community that has been devastated by your shameful industry practices.

Today a federal court judge in Honolulu will hear oral arguments in relation to Big Biotech’s lawsuit seeking to block implementation of Kauai County’s new pesticide law. FIC continues to support both the law and local groups pushing for more transparency and accountability around chemical companies’ year-round spraying near sensitive public areas (such as schools and waterways).

According to the Associated Press, the four companies who filed the joint complaint against the county – Syngenta, Pioneer, Agrigenetics (a Dow subsidiary) and BASF – claim the law “will increase risks of vandalism and misappropriation of trade secrets.” The excuse of protecting so-called proprietary information is a common one that companies throughout the food chain try to exploit as a means to simply escape oversight. The law, Ordinance 960, requires companies to disclose pesticide use information and establish buffer zones between their fields and public spaces. Perish the thought that money-making chemical companies consider community health and basic transparency more than their pocketbooks.

Last year, FIC submitted information requests to find out how the biotech industry may have influenced government officials when the law was still being considered.

Who is the real victim here? Certainly not Syngenta and its pesticide brigade.

The county and its people are standing up against Big Biotech to defend the new law, which is set to take effect on Oct. 1. We stand with Kauai. Are you with us?

Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.


Whistleblower: Pilot Poultry Plant “Craziest Thing I’ve Ever Walked Into”

man whatThis week, the USDA submitted a new draft version of its controversial poultry inspection plan to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). It's the OMB's role to review regulatory policy and set the president's budget (which, in turn, dictates rulemaking priorities). While there might be changes to the proposal in response to public comments, it's uncertain what exactly those changes entail. What we do know is that this plan is bad news for consumers, workers, and animal welfare.

Help us make sure the USDA listens to its own employees, who know firsthand how bad this new plan could be. Inspectors who have worked at pilot plants under the proposed plan are concerned about this rule being finalized. Here is what whistleblowers have been telling us:

Under this plan, there is no speed limit. Plants can run processing lines as fast as they dare. Nobody can inspect a carcass at those speeds.

Most people I have talked to do not think this plan will work, and I don't see how it could either, as line speeds are already running too fast to properly inspect birds.

The notion that this plan is somehow scientifically designed to be a better system than traditional inspection is complete nonsense. They attempt to resolve real food safety issues with chemicals.

Both pilot plants where I work continuously fail salmonella tests. There will be no food safety under this plan.

The pilot plant was one of the craziest things I've ever walked into. The carcasses were just flying by.

The pilot plant I worked in was a mess. I couldn't believe how much fecal matter we were finding, and the agency constantly pressured us not to make a big deal out of it.

Take a stand for those who speak out to protect our food's integrity. Sign this petition to keep chicken feces off your plate!


Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.


Whistleblower Concerns about Chemical-Drenched Chicken Featured Today on Dr. Oz

chickens liveFinding out that the chicken on your plate has been through an intense chemical bath is not very appetizing, but industry insiders and whistleblowers feel you should know the truth about poultry, the largest segment of U.S. agriculture.

USDA poultry inspectors have been raising concerns about the dangerous changes in the industry for years, including the harmful health impacts from excessive chemical use at processing plants.

Chemical use in poultry will be touched upon on today’s episode of Dr. Oz: Inside the Chicken Industry – Is Something Foul?, bringing to the public sphere what whistleblowers have been voicing to the Food Integrity Campaign for some time.

What many Americans don’t know is that the USDA is planning to expand a pilot inspection program that will make chemical use and the problems that come with it more serious and widespread. The Campaign launched a petition urging the agency to listen to its own employees who believe the plan is bad for consumers, bad for workers, and bad for animals!

Under the program – which involves faster line speeds and reduced oversight – en mass chemical sprays are taking over the job of handling contamination rather than selective manual sorting by trained government inspectors. Former chicken inspector Sherry Medina has detailed how this practice forced her to retire early due to serious health problems she experienced at a Tyson Foods plant in Alabama. Watch her tell her story on a recent TV news report:

Sherry isn’t the only one affected by this extreme chemical spraying. Other inspectors are suffering but can’t risk their jobs by speaking up. More coverage of industry insiders’ concerns on shows like Dr. Oz will hopefully enable more people to take action and send a clear message to the USDA that its problematic poultry plan is unacceptable. Sign our petition and help spread the word!

Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.


Considering Blowing the Whistle? 10 Quick Tips to Know

tipHave you ever seen something wrong in the workplace and felt like you should speak up? Everyday people witness waste, fraud, and abuses of power in the workplace but are unsure what to do about it. The stakes are high. Making the ethical decision can be hard when blowing the whistle can be a career-ending move. Thinking of blowing the whistle? Here are some quick tips:

  1. Consider whether there is a reasonable way to work within the system.
  2. Engage in whistleblowing initiatives on your own time and with your own resources – don't use your work phone or computer, etc.
  3. Get a legal opinion from a competent lawyer.
  4. Don't embellish your charges.
  5. Discreetly attempt to learn of any other witnesses who are upset about the wrongdoing.
  6. Develop a plan – such as a strategically timed release of information to government agencies so that your employer is reacting to you, instead of vice versa.
  7. Maintain good relations with administration and support staff.
  8. Be careful to record events as they unfold. Try to construct a straightforward, factual log of the relevant activities and events on the job, keeping in mind that your employer will have access to the diary if there is a lawsuit.
  9. Don't become isolated. Seek a support network of potential allies such as elected officials, journalists and activists.
  10. Identify and copy all necessary supporting records beforehand.


Amanda Hitt is Food Integrity Campaign Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


FIC Investigation into Big Biotech’s Kauai Influence Underway

field pesticideWhen most people think of Hawaii, they picture a beautiful and pristine tropical paradise. That's what the FIC team thought too, until concerned citizen activists sought our help in exposing the improper influence of biotech companies on state legislators and officials. As it turns out, major biotech companies like BASF and Syngenta have taken an interest in Hawaii and its 365 days/year growing season. Perfect year-round weather means lots of time to conduct research and development activities on genetically engineered (GE) crops. On the island of Kauai, bountiful GE crops also mean chronic exposure to dangerous chemical pesticides, which can lead to worker injuries, birth defects, and illness.

Hawaiians are sounding the alarm on pesticide use and its effects on people and the environment. FIC is listening. A new report confirms what Kauai whistleblowers are saying. The excessive use of highly toxic pesticides that Big Biotech is using on GE crops in Kauai has made parts of the island "one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture."

The FIC team will be looking into whistleblower allegations and working alongside other organizations to demand truth, transparency, and accountability from corporate re-offenders. Make sure to follow our coverage of this important issue on Facebook and in upcoming blogs.


Amanda Hitt is Food Integrity Campaign Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.


Report Confirms What USDA Whistleblowers are Telling Us

usdaEmpowering whistleblowers who are on the front lines of the food supply is the best way to keep the system transparent and wrongdoers accountable. But until a culture is created in which blowing the whistle is expected and rewarded, the dire situation of secrecy and repeat violations without accountability that currently exists will only continue.

According to a USDA inspector general report and records recently acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, the USDA is failing at its job to hold violators of the Humane Slaughter Act accountable.

This isn't much of a surprise given what many USDA inspectors have shared with FIC regarding how they are treated when they try to report wrongdoing. Meat inspectors and veterinarians face routine retaliation for simply doing their job (raising concerns and submitting noncompliance reports). As the Ethics Resource Center concluded from its 2013 National Business Ethics Survey, "High retaliation rates discourage reporting and make it harder for organizations to identify and root out bad behavior." No doubt that is the case for federal employees who have witnessed conflicts of interest between the agency and the industry it's supposedly overseeing.

Is it a surprise that the USDA Des Moines district has the worst record of humane slaughter violations of the 10 USDA districts? It's headquartered in a state with a dangerous Ag Gag law, effectively eliminating the safest means for whistleblowers to expose abuse without fear of retaliation: undercover video. When USDA inspector Jim Schrier reported slaughter violations, undercover video could have protected him from being wrongly moved more than 120 miles away from his home and family.

This week a judge will hear arguments on Idaho's Ag Gag law in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the measure. FIC has submitted an amicus brief supporting the lawsuit. Former USDA veterinarian Dr. Daryl Jacobs also opposes Idaho's legislation, and has acknowledged "whistleblowers need video to validate and substantiate what they're saying."

The persistent push for these laws that further silence whistleblowers who already face a hostile environment when they come forward is evidence that we still have a long way to go in creating a culture that values truth-telling. Only then can USDA adequately carry out its oversight role, bad actors be held accountable, and consumers feel confident in their food's integrity.

Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.


Whistleblowers Key in Publicizing Animal Agriculture's Environmental Violations

cafoAnimal agriculture is one of the top contributors to our most serious environmental problems, producing 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. FIC works with whistleblowers who reveal horrific stories of contamination due to routine factory farm practices.

Just last week, the Environmental Protection Agency fined a meat processing plant in Lancaster, Pennsylvania $40,000 for allegedly failing to properly pretreat its industrial waste before discharging it to the City's wastewater treatment plant.

Groundwater contamination is a huge problem in animal agriculture. Animals raised on factory farms produce more waste than the human population, and the industry's practice of crowding thousands of animals in a single facility results in too much manure to handle properly! The giant lagoons where untreated urine and manure are stored release hazardous gases (including 80 percent of U.S. ammonia emissions) into the atmosphere and pollute waterways with pathogens, heavy metals and other contaminants.

Whistleblowers are key in raising the alarm when a facility has violated Clean Water Act permits, especially since details on large-scale farms (including location) remain private – even from the federal government. This is appalling, considering the billions of dollars spent around the globe cleaning up Big Ag's mess.

Honest employees at these plants risk a lot when they report environmental violations, facing routine retaliation from their employers for simply doing their job. That's why the FIC team continues to push for stronger whistleblower protections in the meat and poultry industry, where animal waste disrupts ecosystems, kills wildlife, ruins soil quality, and damages crops. Animal agriculture's impact on the surrounding communities reinforces the need for more transparency and accountability that only brave truth-tellers can bring.


Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.

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