Thank a Food Worker This Week!

FCWA-13FCWW-FBIn the last year, think of every time you've gone grocery shopping or went out to eat at a restaurant. These events are the result of countless workers who grow, harvest, process, label, inspect and ship the food before it ends up on your dinner plate.

FIC is joining the Food Chain Workers Alliance (FCWA) in celebrating this week's International Food Workers Week to reflect on those who provide the food we eat, including brave whistleblowers who risk their livelihoods to expose threats to the food supply.

Since many Americans are also celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday this week, it seems doubly appropriate to take a moment to give thanks to the men and women along the food chain performing what is often thankless work. According to FCWA, food workers hold eight of the ten lowest paid jobs.

Many groups, including FCWA, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, are taking actions this week to improve standards for food workers, including campaigns for better living wages and paid sick days. After all, how can food workers protect your food against harm if they can't protect their own livelihoods? 

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Undercover Video of Pig Abuse Moves Tyson to Cancel Farm Contract, Proves Ag Gag Laws Unjust

aggag2013Tyson Foods, the nation's largest meat producer, announced yesterday that it has terminated a contract with one of its suppliers, an Oklahoma pig farm, after NBC News revealed undercover video of animal abuse at the facility.

The actions seen on the video – workers kicking, hitting and throwing pigs and slamming piglets into the ground – allegedly violate Oklahoma's animal cruelty law and are contrary to Tyson's policies on the treatment of livestock. According to a Tyson spokesman, "We're extremely disappointed by the mistreatment shown in the video and will not tolerate this kind of animal mishandling."

The fact that Tyson responded to the video and asserted how serious the company is about humane handling illustrates the importance of undercover video in bringing about food system accountability.

FIC hopes Tyson is just as responsive to whistleblowers' reports of inhumane handling at its slaughterhouses.

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Kauai Council Supports Transparency, Overrides Veto of Pesticide Disclosure Bill

kauai_landscapeGood news finally hit Kauai on Saturday when the Kauai County Council voted 5-2 to override Mayor Bernard Carvalho's veto of Bill 2491. The bill, now law, requires biotech companies to disclose pesticide use information and establish buffer zones between their fields and schools, hospitals and residential areas.

A press release from the bill's supporters states:

The final passage of Bill 2491 into law is being called a victory for people, health and the environment in the face of incredible pressure from the world’s largest chemical corporations.

The chemical companies have fought strongly against Bill 2491, threatening to sue Kauai and using divisive and misleading tactics. As bill supporter Fern Rosenstiel commented: “It’s remarkable how hard we’ve had to fight simply for our right to know what pesticides are being sprayed in massive amounts right next to homes and schools. We’ve met every possible obstacle, but we’ve been persistent and stayed grounded in our values of protecting our people and land.”

The mayor's stated reason for vetoing the bill was the threat of legal challenges by the pesticide companies, but council members dismissed the claim. One member stated, "I cannot imagine these large corporations suing a tiny county like Kauai for the right to spray poisons next to schools." Environmental attorneys have also offered to defend the county for free if there's litigation.

Another attempt to derail the bill, according to critics, was the announcement of the Kauai Agriculture Good Neighbor Program right before the council's scheduled vote to override the veto. The program provides guidelines for companies to voluntarily comply with new pesticide disclosure rules and buffer zones, but the guidelines are much weaker than the bill's rules and it lacks enforcement due to the voluntary nature. Biotech company representatives have testified previously that they would not disclose such details that are "confidential business information."

FIC is quite familiar with such an argument, as food companies routinely claim proprietary information as a reason for keeping information out of the public light. But people who consume their products should be able to know everything they wish in order to feel secure that their meal is safe and produced with integrity. That goes for growing crops in a way that doesn't harm the surrounding community.

Kudos to the Kauai County Council for standing up for transparency and passing Bill 2491.


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


Kauai Journalism Project to Focus on Pesticide Use and GE Food

cameraThe push for food integrity in Kauai – particularly transparency around pesticide use and genetically engineered (GE) crop production – continues as we await the decision of today’s council vote to consider overriding the mayor's recent veto of Bill 2491. The bill would require biotech companies in Kauai to disclose pesticide use information and establish buffer zones between their fields and public spaces. (UPDATE: The vote has been delayed until Saturday.)

Regardless of the bill's outcome, debate over pesticide concerns in the area has motivated efforts in sparking greater awareness of these issues, both locally and across the nation. The Media Consortium exemplified that motivation when it announced yesterday a two-year collaborative project with up to ten of its member news organizations, which will send reporters to Kauai to cover issues regarding pesticide-based pollution, GE food, corporate influence and other important topics.

According to the organization's press release, "The Kauai Project is designed to look at Kauai as a microcosm of biotech agriculture and its impacts on local communities and on the world's food supply."

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Washington State GE Food Labeling Measure Trailing

washington_state_mapResidents of Washington state decided this week whether or not to label food products containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients in what was expected to be a close vote on Initiative 522. As of Tuesday night, the measure was failing 45 percent to 55 percent. While opponents declared victory, labeling supporters said complete vote results may take several weeks since Washington has a vote-by-mail system. According to Politico, the tally on election night in Washington "often only reflects about 60 percent of the votes that ultimately will be received."

It has been a heated, expensive battle with the measure's opponents breaking the state's fundraising record for Washington initiative campaigns. The Vote No on 522 campaigners – which include Monsanto, Dow Agrisciences, Pepsico, General Mills, Nestle, Coca-Cola and more than 30 other major food manufacturers – raised $22 million, nearly three times the money raised by the Yes on 522 campaign ($8 million). While the No group lists only six individual donors, the Yes includes 15,000 individual contributions (plus several hundred food companies including Whole Foods, Dr. Bronner's and Ben & Jerry's).

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Kauai Mayor Vetoes Pesticide Disclosure Bill; Supporters Vow Override

kauaiLast week, Mayor Bernard Carvalho of Kauai vetoed a recently passed bill that would require biotech companies to disclose pesticide use information, and establish buffer zones between their fields and public spaces including schools, parks and hospitals. The decision was met with frustration by the legislation's supporters, who see the move as a betrayal, but overall a "minor obstacle in the bigger picture of a growing movement for a healthier, safer, more democratic Kauai."

FIC has been following this legislation closely and is likewise disappointed that a serious effort to enhance transparency and oversight in Kauai was blocked.

Kauai Council Member Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill and helped pass it in a 6-to-1 vote in October, stated:

"The medical community, impacted residents, environmentalists, cultural practitioners, farmers, teachers and labor unions came together to work on this Bill, the first common-sense step to addressing concerns over pesticide use on the island. Though the Council was apprised of every single issue that the Mayor seems to take concern with, they still decided in a 6-1 vote to move forward as an overwhelming majority," said Council Member Gary Hooser, who co-introduced the bill. "With aloha [compassion] comes kuleana [personal responsibility], and we will continue with our work to protect our people’s health and safety.”

The bill's aim is to address the increase in pesticide concerns since Hawaii became a major center for genetically engineered (GE) seed production in the last two decades. The state's three growing seasons instead of one attracted major companies (including Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, Dow, BASF and Monsanto) but has resulted in increased spraying of pesticides throughout the year. Residents of Kauai – where the first four of those companies utilize 12,000 acres for seed growing – want to be informed about what the companies are growing and what type and quantity of pesticides they're using. In addition to the reporting requirement and buffer zones, the bill also calls for a health and environmental impact study relating to pesticide use.

Bill supporters say they'll now focus on ensuring an override of the mayor's veto and continuing efforts to protect the health of the island and its people.


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


USDA Poultry Plan Linked to Animal Welfare, Food Safety Threats

HIMP_rallyWhere there's risk of animal cruelty at slaughterhouses, food safety concerns are probably not that far behind, and vice versa!

USDA whistleblowers have revealed in the last two years the threats to public health caused by the agency's poultry processing inspection plan (which would increase line speeds to 175 birds per minute), but now poultry inspectors and other experts have also drawn links between the plan and an increased risk of inhumane handling. Another reason it needs the boot!

Yesterday's front-page Washington Post story reports that an annual average of 825,000 chickens die when they enter the scalder (a tank of boiling water used to help defeather them), rather than an automated blade swipe earlier on the slaughter line. This happens when birds are not properly shackled and stunned as they go down the already rapidly paced system. According to researchers, "the resulting death is far more painful for the birds than if they are properly incapacitated and their necks cut."

The USDA's plan to increase line speeds applies directly to the poultry processing lines after slaughter, but wouldn't more birds need to be slaughtered to meet the plan's goals? Would that 825,000 number of chickens dying by scalder increase if the plan was implemented? A worrisome thought.

Another concern is, of course, food safety. From the article:

Birds that have been boiled alive can be identified by the cherry-red color of their skin, which results because their bodies were not drained of blood during slaughter. Birds that died this way must be discarded, because their meat is saturated with blood and can breed bacteria or disguise the presence of disease.

This resulting bruised meat needs to be kept out of the food supply, but under the proposal, many government inspectors would be removed from the line and unable to flag birds that have suffered abuse and are not fit for human consumption. The inspectors would, instead, be replaced by poultry companies' own employees – workers who lack adequate whistleblower protections and cannot safely speak up when they witness a problem. This outsourcing of inspection is indeed "too hard to swallow."

If you haven't already, check out USDA whistleblower Phyllis McKelvey's petition urging the plan's immediate withdrawal. You can also read FIC's previous coverage on this flawed proposal.


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

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