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March FIC eNews: Idaho Ag Gag Becomes Law, Battle Continues in Other States

The monthly recap below appeared in FIC's March e-Newsletter (first Tuesday of the month). If you would like to receive monthly updates and other urgent alerts via email, please sign up here.


Governor Otter Lets Idaho Conceal Farm Abuses

idahoWhat do Idaho agribusinesses have to hide? A lot, apparently. Last Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed the state's anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill into law, criminalizing would-be whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing on farms via undercover video.

This move came despite a concerted campaign by FIC and coalition partners (thanks to everyone who called the governor and urged him to veto the bill!). Even yogurt company Chobani came out against the legislation, stating that it "would limit transparency and make some instances of exposing mistreatment of animals in the state punishable by imprisonment."

On Friday, FIC also released a statement by a former USDA veterinarian who has witnessed abuses at Idaho dairy farms, articulating the need for undercover video to hold wrongdoers accountable. Check out his full statement here.

This Salon article quotes FIC Director Amanda Hitt, who explains the impact the law will have on not only those exposing animal welfare violations, but also environmental and workers' rights whistleblowing.

Idaho has a history of passing laws that make it easier for factory farms to escape proper oversight. While we are disappointed, FIC remains steadfast in fighting these laws. Follow us as we take on Ag Gag threats in Tennessee and Arizona. If you live in Tennessee, find the contact information for your legislators here and urge them to oppose anti-whistleblower bill HB 2258! If you live in Arizona, find your legislators here and urge them to oppose the anti-whistleblower bill HB 2587/SB 1267 even with the proposed amendments!


Transparency Battle with Big Chemical Companies

Yet another giant biotech company, BASF, has joined a lawsuit aimed at blocking Kauai County's recently enacted legislation that requires both pesticide data reporting and the implementation of buffer zones to shield schools and other public spaces from pesticide fumes. BASF joins Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics (a Dow Chemical subsidiary) in opposing what Kauai residents (and FIC) consider basic public health interests.

See FIC's investigation into whether biotech companies exerted improper influence over government officials while the legislation was being debated.

More news updates on Kauai here and here.


FIC, Poultry Workers Campaign against USDA Proposal

speeding-poultryLast Thursday, poultry workers from North Carolina, Mississippi and Arkansas traveled to the nation's capital to stop USDA's proposal that would endanger workers' health and safety by speeding up production lines at poultry processing facilities throughout the U.S. During their meeting with lawmakers and administration officials, FIC and others joined together in a Twitter campaign (using the hashtag #SafetyOverSpeed) against the agency's inspection plan.

FIC also blogged about a recent Harris Poll showing that 73 percent of Americans think there should be more government oversight of the food supply. Another reason that the plan, which would remove many government inspectors and transfer their duties to private industry workers, is not in the public interest either.


eye Eye on Monsanto

What has biotechnology behemoth (and consistent violator of food integrity) Monsanto been up to recently? Here's the latest Monsanto news:

  • Food industry groups are proposing voluntary federal genetically engineered (GE) food labeling in an attempt to crush state efforts for mandatory labeling (which Monsanto continues to oppose).
  • According to a new study, Monsanto's Roundup Ready could be linked to a fatal kidney disease.
  • An ecologist who has been studying monarch butterflies for years blames Monsanto's GE corn and soybean crops for the butterfly's plummeting populations.
 

Idaho USDA Whistleblower on Ag Gag: "We Can Do Better than this Dangerous Law"

cow_blackwhiteMore voices have come out against Idaho's Ag Gag bill as attention on the state increases. First, Chobani has issued a statement against the anti-whistleblower legislation. Now, a USDA whistleblower from Idaho, Dr. Daryl Jacobs – who has witnessed many abuses on dairy farms in the state – has come forward to FIC with his misgivings about the law and why undercover video (which the bill aims to prevent) is needed.

As a former veterinarian for the USDA, I have seen a lot of unfortunate things come out of Idaho dairy farms. Broken bones, cows sick with cancer, and loaded with antibiotics. I understand why some farms would want to keep their abuses hidden, but a few bad apples shouldn’t get the benefit of a bad law. The reality is, some of these farms shouldn’t be in business, they’re causing a lot of suffering and ruining the reputation of good farmers. Undercover investigation is important for exposing all kinds of illegal and immoral activities, not just problems at dairy farms and whistleblowers need video to validate and substantiate what they’re saying. As a concerned veterinarian and proud Idahoan, I know something has to be done to protect these cows and keep the food supply safe, and if these undercover videos can stop cows from suffering and keep food safe, then I’m all for it! I think we can do better than this dangerous law, for animals, farmers and consumers' sake.

More on undercover video and Ag Gag's push to silence agriculture whistleblowers here.

 

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

 

Chobani Speaks Out against Idaho's Ag Gag Bill, Urges Governor Veto

yoghurtA huge development has emerged as food integrity supporters continue to monitor Idaho's potential passing of its anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill.

As the legislation reached Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's desk for approval yesterday (after both state houses passed the controversial measure), FIC and our coalition partners decided to put pressure on yogurt company Chobani and dairy giant Darigold to step in and urge the governor to veto the bill.

After a day of tweets, messages and petitions, Chobani heard the call for transparency and responded in kind.

This morning, Chobani CEO Hamdi Ulukaya spoke out against Idaho's Ag Gag bill, stating:

A bill is up for approval in Idaho that, if passed, would limit transparency and make some instances of exposing the mistreatment of animals in the state punishable by imprisonment. This could cause the general public concern and conflicts with our views and values.

As someone who grew up on a farm, I believe deeply that the humane treatment of animals is an ethical and moral imperative and, having spent a lot of time in upstate New York and Idaho, I know hundreds of farmers feel the same.

When I founded Chobani, it was based around these core values and principles. And we chose Idaho for Chobani's second home because of its deep farming culture, sense of community and shared values.

So I am joining many folks across the country in asking Governor Otter to reconsider the bill before him."

Ulukaya should be praised for such a brave move that's the right thing for the public good. Let's hope this action by such an influential company – with operations in Idaho itself – will convince Gov. Otter to keep institutionalized secrecy out of the state!

 

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

 

Idaho Senate Passes Ag Gag Bill, Seeks to Mask Wrongdoers

idahoIdaho has a $2.5 billion dairy industry ... with a lot to hide, apparently. The state Senate passed Idaho's anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill (S.1337) last Friday, which would make it a crime to photograph or videotape wrongdoing on a farm.

The state has a history of enacting laws that make it easier for CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) to do business without strict regulation, and this move would simply add to the list. In fact, dairy operators have flocked to Idaho to flee regulations in California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere in recent years.

Should industrial farm whistleblowers be penalized with up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine for conveying the truth? According to this Motherboard article, the bill's sponsor – Sen. Jim Patrick, whose district is at the center of the state's dairy industry – is "equating the uncovering of abuse and unsafe practices at industrial farms to an all-out war on the food supply, which is just plain silly."

If anyone is going to point fingers at who is making the industry look bad, it's the perpetrators committing wrongdoing. They should be the ones facing punishment, not the individuals who are brave enough to expose them. More on why whistleblowers rely on undercover video here. More on Idaho dairy hide-and-seek games here.

The bill could go up for a vote in the Idaho House of Representatives any day now. If you live in Idaho, contact your state representative and Gov. Butch Otter immediately and urge opposition to this anti-whistleblower bill!

 

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

 

Poll: Consumers Call for More Government Oversight of Food Safety

usdaAccording to a new Harris Poll, 73 percent of Americans think there should be more government oversight of the food supply.

Someone should alert the USDA, since the agency is proposing the exact opposite: the removal of government inspectors in poultry plants and transferring their duties to private industry workers (who are not empowered to speak up when a food safety threat arises).

The majority of U.S. adults say food recalls have them at least somewhat concerned (86%, with 58% somewhat concerned and 28% seriously concerned). No surprise there. In the first five days of February alone, there have already been at least six food recalls reported. Consumers say they would like to see "more government oversight in regards to food safety." Half of those surveyed said they hold the firm who packaged/processed the food responsible for more health and safety issues in recent years.

Read more »
 

February FIC eNews: New Hampshire Ag Gag Bill Fails

The monthly recap below appeared in FIC's February e-Newsletter (first Tuesday of the month). If you would like to receive monthly updates and other urgent alerts via email, please sign up here.


New Hampshire Ag Gag Bill Fails Despite New Industry Strategy

new_hampshire_map_smallBig Ag has revamped its legislative strategy to pass Ag Gag laws in 2014 with language focusing on mandatory reporting provisions rather than undercover video. The endgame, however, remains the same: silence whistleblowers.

New Hampshire's Ag Gag bill, for example, included a provision that would criminalize individuals who don't immediately report wrongdoing, keeping whistleblowers from safely compiling information that could more effectively lead to accountability. Case in point: Recently released video compiled at a New Jersey veal plant unveiled humane slaughter violations, causing the plant’s shutdown. Similarly, it was undercover video that validated our client, USDA veterinarian and whistleblower Dr. Dean Wyatt, who immediately reported wrongdoing he witnessed at a Vermont slaughterhouse but was punished for speaking up. Fortunately, a 329-15 vote in the New Hampshire House passed last month to table the bill, an indication that the public won't accept the industry’s new tactic in assaulting transparency.

Let's hope this win in New Hampshire starts a wave of defeat in all other would-be Ag Gag states. Follow us as we follow these anti-whistleblower bills!


Pesticide Companies Sue Kauai to Stop Disclosure Law

Once again, the biotech industry has dismissed the health concerns of communities impacted by chemical sprayings. Three of the world's largest biotech/pesticide companies – Syngenta, DuPont Pioneer and Agrigenetics (a Dow Chemical subsidiary) – have filed a lawsuit against the County of Kauai to block implementation of the recently passed pesticide disclosure bill (now Ordinance 960).

FIC has been in support of the ordinance, having launched an investigation into biotech’s influence on Hawaii government officials. This latest news is very disappointing (albeit unsurprising).

Like us on Facebook yet? Follow this story and more like it on our page!


FIC Sends Joint Letter to Congress Urging Rejection of USDA Poultry Rule

consumerreports_02_2014Last month, FIC and our coalition partners sent a letter to Congress urging the rejection of a budget proposal for USDA’s proposed changes to poultry inspection. FIC has fought this proposal for years, as several government employees revealed to us that the pilot program is problematic and should not be initiated nationwide.

Meanwhile, the front-page story of the latest Consumer Reports (CR), "The High Cost of Cheap Chicken," is all about the chicken industry and its threats to consumer health. One section highlights USDA's poultry plan and the concerns of its own federal inspectors. Among many concerns, the CR article explains that inspectors "allege that they were pressured to overlook possible food safety concerns to keep the lines running."

Stay tuned for ways you can help stop the implementation of the poultry plan!


eye Eye on Monsanto

What has biotechnology behemoth (and consistent violator of food integrity) Monsanto been up to recently? Here's the latest Monsanto news:

 

Undercover Video Unveils Humane Slaughter Violations at New Jersey Veal Plant

calf_eating_hay1If an anti-whistleblower Ag Gag law was in place in New Jersey, a slaughterhouse that violated humane handling and slaughter regulations may still be in operation. Fortunately, in the Garden State, no Ag Gag laws are in place that criminalize truth-tellers who expose wrongdoing on industrial farms via undercover video.

The USDA suspended operations at the New Jersey-based Catelli Bros. veal slaughter plant after reviewing undercover video provided by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The video shows still-conscious calves hanging upside down on a conveyor belt (the "kill line"). Federal legislation requires that the calves be rendered unconscious before shackling and while on the "kill line" before slaughter. The video also shows a calf being dragged while struggling to walk, indicating another violation of USDA's rules for humane slaughter of animals for human consumption.

HSUS President Wayne Pacelle stated, "Downed calves are still suffering the sort of appalling abuses that we exposed in 2009 at another calf slaughter plant in Vermont."

The abuses at that Vermont plant were first exposed by FIC client and USDA veterinarian Dr. Dean Wyatt. However, he faced significant retaliation for his disclosures until HSUS released undercover video that validated his concerns. The Vermont plant was forced to shutdown and the USDA even followed Dr. Wyatt's advice about instituting a humane handling ombudsman at the agency.

In states where Ag Gag laws have passed such as Utah and Iowa, there can no longer be undercover video like the footage that vindicated Dr. Wyatt. This type of evidence is necessary to give voice to otherwise silenced whistleblowers who keep our food system safe.

Ag Gag bills have been introduced in Indiana and New Hampshire so far in 2014, although the latter bill has been tabled. Stay tuned for future updates on these attacks on food transparency by following us on Facebook and Twitter!

 

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

 
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