One year ago this Saturday, USDA public health veterinarian and whistleblower Dr. Dean Wyatt was vindicated for slaughterhouse humane handling complaints he had brought up repeatedly since 2007, but were ignored by his superiors. That was the day that the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage of horrific animal abuses (including excessive electrical prodding and skinning a calf alive) at the Bushway Packing slaughterhouse in Vermont. Dr. Wyatt also exposed similar atrocities at a plant in Oklahoma. You can read about his story in full here.
How timely that in the same week as the one-year anniversary of the plant violations' exposure, the owner of Bushway Packing has pleaded nolo contendere in the case charging him of animal cruelty, a direct result of the video and consequent USDA investigation. Frank Perretta entered the plea Wednesday in Vermont, which officially does not admit or dispute the charges against him, but has the same consequences as a guilty plea.
The Vermont Attorney General press release states:
Perretta will receive a suspended sentence of zero to one year, pay a fine of $2,000 and will complete 120 hours of community service, not involving work with animals. In addition, the court entered an order that Perretta forfeit any future right to participate in any animal husbandry or slaughterhouse activity.
This is good news, especially for Dr. Wyatt, who faced hostility rather than praise for his efforts to enforce food integrity. And not just at the Vermont plant, which was forced to shut down but has since reopened under new ownership.
Earlier this year, GAP helped Dr. Wyatt prepare and deliver testimony in front of Congress regarding the violations he witnessed at Bushway Packing, as well as at the Oklahoma slaughterhouse which “appealed Wyatt’s citations.” Dr. Wyatt described the lack of support he received from USDA supervisors and made recommendations to the agency for reforming its approach to humane handling.
We can only be so lucky to have more brave whistleblowers like Dr. Wyatt, who pushed on year after year even when everyone seemed against him. GAP continues to support efforts like his to hold the government accountable for monitoring our food supply.
Sarah Damian is Social and New Media Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.