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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.

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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.

 

Pesticide Companies Sue Kauai to Stop Disclosure Law

pesticide_cropdusterSeveral biotech/pesticide companies kept their word by filing a lawsuit on Friday against the County of Kauai to block implementation of the recently passed pesticide disclosure bill (now Ordinance 960). This news is very disappointing, but not entirely surprising, as the industry shows where its real priorities lie – certainly not with public health.

FIC has been following this issue closely and continues to support local efforts to hold the pesticide industry accountable. We recently submitted several information requests to determine whether biotech companies exerted improper influence over Hawaii state and Kauai County officials while the legislation was being debated.

In addition to requiring companies to disclose pesticide use information, Ordinance 960 also establishes buffer zones for pesticide spraying around public spaces such as schools and hospitals. It also instructs the county to complete a health and environmental impact study. It is set to take effect in August 2014.

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Industry's New Ag Gag Strategy Has Same Endgame

whisleblower_slide_cropWe already got a taste of it last year, but according to Food Safety News, Big Ag has revamped its legislative strategy for 2014 when it comes to silencing whistleblowers. As evidenced by the defeat of all 11 anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills in 2013, it's clear that the states won't allow the animal agriculture industry to explicitly criminalize individuals who utilize undercover video or images to expose wrongdoing on industrial farms.

Big Ag's solution? Focus instead on mandatory reporting provisions. "If you see something, you should say something; it's that simple," said Animal Agriculture Alliance representative Kay Johnson Smith.

From what we’ve seen at FIC, Smith is clearly misguided. Two points:

First, the fact remains that USDA employees and private agriculture industry workers alike face routine retaliation when they report problems through internal channels. Rather than addressing their concerns, supervisors often ignore concerns and thereafter apply other forms of harassment to keep them quiet (USDA inspector Jim Schrier was moved to work at a different slaughter facility more than 120 miles away after reporting humane handling violations).

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January FIC eNews: Ag Gag is Back in 2014

The monthly recap below appeared in FIC's January 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.


Ag Gag is Back Already in 2014

indiana_mapLast year, FIC worked with our coalition partners to help defeat all 11 anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bills, but Big Ag is already on the attack in 2014! The first state Ag Gag bill this year has been introduced in Indiana.

In 2013, there was a particularly contentious debate over Ag Gag in Indiana (even former The Price is Right host Bob Barker got involved). After extensive discussions in both chambers, however, the bill died. Thanks again to FIC supporters in Indiana who contacted their representatives and urged the bill's removal! We may need your help again this session, so stay tuned!

If passed, Indiana's SB101 would criminalize individuals who expose wrongdoing on industrial farms. This attempt to silence agriculture whistleblowers is unacceptable and we'll be keeping you informed on how you can help us combat Ag Gag in 2014. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter as we gear up for the next round in the fight for food transparency.

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