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We’re Listening to USDA Poultry Whistleblowers. Petition Secretary Vilsack to do the Same!

poultry_inspector_cropThus far, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has failed to acknowledge the concerns of USDA poultry inspectors regarding his agency's proposal to increase line speeds and privatize inspection at processing plants. The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), despite being the public health arm of the agency, seems to be promoting industry profit, as corporations stand to save a projected $125 million a year with the new plan in place, while consumer and plant worker safety pays the price.

Whistleblowers, however, continue to speak out against the plan.

FIC has launched a TakePart petition urging Vilsack to heed the concerns of whistleblowers (as well as other government agencies) and drop the plan.

Just one reason the proposal is a bad idea? Under the plan, harmful health impacts from excess chemical use at poultry plants will only become more serious and widespread. Last night, WSB-TV ran a story featuring poultry plant workers (including former USDA inspector Sherry Medina) who say that chemicals sprayed on the chicken carcasses are making workers sick. Watch the story below:

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Watch Live: WSB-TV Piece on Chemical Use at Chicken Plants

poultry_inspector_cropTonight at 6:00pm ET, WSB-TV is airing a news report about the excess use of chemicals at poultry processing plants, featuring an interview with FIC Director Amanda Hitt and USDA whistleblower Sherry Medina. Check out the story preview and watch live here.

Health concerns that have put inspectors like Sherry out of work as a result of excess chemical use are likely to become more serious and widespread under the USDA's proposed changes to the federal inspection system, which include increasing line speeds and handing government oversight duties to the poultry industry itself.

After 16 years of working as a federal meat inspector, Medina was forced to seek early retirement due to serious health issues that she experienced while working at a Tyson Foods plant in Albertville, Alabama. Shortly after Medina arrived at the plant in 2010, the facility began speeding up processing lines and using massive doses of peracetic acid to chemically wash all chicken carcasses. Previously, only birds showing signs of contamination were isolated and subjected to chemical treatment. Two months after the switch to peracetic acid, according to Medina, nearly all of the inspectors started getting sick.

According to Hitt: "This is just another way in which the USDA's plan is a threat to food safety. I'm all for improving inspection, but this plan isn't it. Not only does the plan put consumers at risk, but the threat to workers is now evident."

Sign FIC's petition to tell USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to stop this dangerous plan!

 

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

 

Tennessee Legislature Wins 'Muzzle Award' for Pushing Anti-Whistleblower Ag Gag Bill

TJCenter_muzzles_biggerLast year, Tennessee was the only state whose legislature passed an Ag Gag bill aimed at silencing whistleblowers who expose abuse on industrial farms. Ten other states introduced similar measures, but each bill ultimately died in state legislatures. FIC was part of a strong campaign against these terrible pieces of legislation, and after a groundswell of pressure in Tennessee (including from country singer Carrie Underwood), Governor Bill Haslam vetoed the state bill.

Despite the campaign's success, we're still wagging our fingers at the legislators that tried to muzzle on-the-ground truth-tellers who believe the public should know what's happening behind factory farm doors. So we were glad to see that Tennessee legislators are being officially recognized for their misdeeds in the 2014 Jefferson Muzzles.

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Oh No You Didn't! CDC Calls Out USDA for Misinterpreting Poultry Plant Study

NIOSHIs USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack so desperate to push his poultry inspection plan forward that he'll try to find evidence supporting it where there is none?

Many poultry industry whistleblowers have told FIC that the USDA's plan, including the increase of already-too-fast line speeds at poultry processing plants, is a threat to public and worker health and safety. But Secretary Vilsack won't listen to the concerns of the actual workers who will be impacted by the faster line speeds. He also won't listen to hundreds of thousands of people who've petitioned the agency to drop the plan.

What about research findings requested by the USDA itself? Turns out he's still not really listening...

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Poultry Inspection Whistleblower Coming to Temple University

phyllis_usdasmock_cropOn Thursday, April 3, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) will bring the American Whistleblower Tour: Essential Voices for Accountability to Temple University. The Tour stop will feature whistleblower Phyllis McKelvey, who has collected more than 196,000 petition signatures to publicly raise serious safety concerns about the USDA's proposed poultry inspection model.

GAP's Tour is a dynamic campaign aimed at educating the public – particularly university students – about the phenomenon and practice of whistleblowing. This event, like all stops, features a moderated discussion with a prominent whistleblower. Details of the discussion are:

Whistleblowing for Food Safety
April 3, 2:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Paley Library Lecture Hall, Ground Floor
1210 Polett Walk

The event, free and open to all, is part of the Beyond the Page Public Programming Series sponsored by Temple University Libraries, which this year is focusing on food-related topics.

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Is Idaho's Ag Gag Law Constitutional? Lawsuit Takes Anti-Whistleblower Measure to Federal Court

court_iconLast month, Idaho became the first state to pass an anti-whistleblower Ag Gag bill since 2012, a disappointing blow. But transparency in the state (already known for its history of anti-transparency legislation) isn't going down without a fight!

A group of organizations and journalists filed a lawsuit this week to overturn the law, which criminalizes would-be whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing on farms via undercover video. Truth-tellers could face up to a year in jail, which is double the state's maximum penalty for animal cruelty.

The lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of Idaho's law, which is clearly aimed at protecting the state's multi-billion dollar dairy industry. The industry pushed the bill after videos released by Mercy for Animals showed workers at Idaho-based Bettencourt Dairy (one of the largest dairy companies in the U.S.) stomping and sexually abusing cows in 2012.

FIC intends to submit an amicus brief in opposition to the new law.

Read the statement of a former USDA veterinarian who has witnessed abuse at Idaho dairy farms and believes "we can do better than this dangerous law."

 

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

 

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.
 
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