Immigrant Whistleblower Amendment Would Benefit Food System

Sen_Richard_BlumenthalSen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)All potential whistleblowers who play a role in food production should have adequate protections to safely report problems they spot on the job. That means even (if not especially) immigrant workers, who make up a significant portion of the workforce along the food supply chain but are the most vulnerable when it comes to blowing the whistle.

Under the pending Senate immigration bill, Americans would rely increasingly on immigrant workers – specifically, temporary guest workers with H-2B visas – to carry out U.S. industry jobs, including food processing.

But as previous cases have illustrated (such as last year's debacle with one of Wal-Mart's seafood suppliers), guest workers often experience horrific working conditions while not enjoying any whistleblower protections. That's a serious problem, considering the proposed legislation could quadruple the size of the H-2B program over the next four years, from 66,000 workers to 264,000.

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USDA Poultry Inspector Speaks Out Against Hazardous Chemical Use

poultry_inspector_cropAt 50 years of age, Sherry Medina didn’t expect to be on disability, seeking early retirement. Committed to bringing awareness to consumers and others working in her sector, she recently made the courageous decision to blow the whistle on Big Ag's liberal and unrestricted application of hazardous chemicals in poultry processing.  

Like others in her position, Sherry takes pride in her work as a USDA poultry inspector, where one of her primary duties is to protect the public from foodborne illness. But since she became seriously ill as a result of heavy chemical use in the plant where she is stationed, she worries that her days of looking out for consumer wellbeing are numbered.

According to Sherry, the chemicals used in the plant where she inspects poultry have seriously impacted her health. An affidavit she released to GAP (made public last month) details the extent of these health problems, including asthma attacks, sinus problems, and even organ damage. Her failing health has seriously impacted her lifestyle and may have ended her 16-year career as an inspector.

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First Ag Gag Test Case Dismissed in Utah

utah_map_redNews went viral Monday when independent journalist Will Potter reported the first prosecution under Utah's anti-whistleblower Ag Gag law (enacted in March 2012) – designed to silence undercover investigations of wrongdoing in animal agriculture. However, the story became so "high-profile" that the charges were dropped Tuesday amidst media pressure and lacking evidence.

From the roadside, Utah resident Amy Meyer reportedly used her cell phone to film a live cow being carried away in a tractor at the Dale Smith Meatpacking Company. Management told the police that she was trespassing but an officer stated he didn't notice evidence of her crossing into private property. Meyer later discovered she'd become the first person in the country prosecuted under one of these laws, facing a class B misdemeanor (which carries up to six months in jail).

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USDA Whistleblowers: Chemical Use in Poultry Plants a Serious Health Hazard

Today, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) is releasing evidence it has gathered from federal poultry inspector whistleblowers about chemical use in the industry and its health impacts.

GAP is making publicly available affidavits from two U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors that illustrate serious health hazards regarding chemical use they observed at multiple poultry processing plants.

GAP Food Integrity Campaign Director Amanda Hitt stated, "The questionable chemical use in the poultry industry is clearly of great concern to inspectors and should be a concern to consumers as well. GAP has been investigating this issue at poultry processing plants for the last two years."

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CDC: Infections from Pathogens Found in Poultry Increased in 2012

cdc_logoThe Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report on the incidence and trends of infection from foodborne pathogens, highlighting that infections from Campylobacter and Vibrio have increased.

In 2012, infections from Campylobacter – a pathogen commonly found in poultry – increased by 14 percent compared with the 2006-2008 period.

Dr. Robert Tauxe, an expert in foodborne illness at CDC, told NBC News, "What I take away from this is we need to think more and more about what happens to the animals before they come to slaughter, what happens back on the farm and what happens with other foods such as produce and processed foods."

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Ag Gag Bills Discussed at National Food Policy Conference

natl_foodpol_confOn April 15 and 16, FIC attended the 36th annual National Food Policy Conference in Washington, DC, where consumer groups, government officials, and food industry representatives gathered to discuss key issues facing the food industry and consumers.

This year’s dialogue shifted toward a discussion on Ag Gag bills when conference-goers took time to consider present food safety and animal welfare concerns in industrial agriculture. The laws were debated in a panel discussion concerning the changing standards for humane handling, where experts discussed consumer expectations for the treatment of animals in the food supply.

Further conversation surrounding Ag Gag took place in a panel about the important role that social media plays in informing the public about food production.

“The goal is to create a discussion, not to end it,” said Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University and food safety blogger Dr. Ben Chapman. Instead of blocking consumers from information about food production, he emphasized the importance of empowering consumers by giving them access to accurate data which, in turn, allows for more informed purchasing decisions.

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President's Budget Reflects Proposed Implementation of Flawed Poultry Rule

usdaToday, President Obama released a proposed FY2014 budget for the Department of Agriculture indicating savings from the agency's finalization of its poultry inspection plan – a plan that many USDA whistleblowers have revealed is a serious threat to food integrity.

From the budget proposal:

The 2014 Budget proposes $1,008.5 million for inspection of meat, poultry and egg products, which is a $2.1 million decrease from the annualized 2013 Continuing Resolution level. The proposed budget contains an increase for sufficient funding to implement the Cooperative Interstate Shipment program. There is a decrease for implementation of new methods in poultry slaughter inspection. [emphasis added]

This is troubling to FIC, good governance, and food and worker safety advocates who have worked tirelessly over the last year to draw attention to the problems with the USDA plan.

Several government poultry inspectors (whose identities remain anonymous in order to prevent whistleblower retaliation) have worked at plants where the proposed inspection changes are already in place under a pilot program, and brought concerns to FIC in early 2012 after USDA announced its plan to expand the pilot program nationwide. Other inspectors who work at plants with traditional inspection also raised concerns, revealing how the changes would only make already problematic conditions even worse.

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