Dean Wyatt

Feds Tout Food Safety Efforts, But Work Remains

foods_fruitsThe federal government released a progress report yesterday that touts the efforts of President Obama's Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) in fighting foodborne illness over the last two years. While federal agencies have certainly addressed many concerns previously raised by FIC and fellow food safety advocates, the update is ultimately one-sided, as it fails to mention significant struggles and shortcomings.

The overall theme of the report, and a central reason the FSWG was established in 2009, was the importance of collaboration among federal agencies – including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – to protect consumers. The report states:

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Supreme Court Leans Toward Industry on Downed Livestock Slaughter

CAFO_hogsFederal law dictates that federal meat inspectors (not including poultry) have the final word on whether non-ambulatory or "downer" livestock – animals too sick or weak to stand on their own – are fit to be sold for human consumption. But whose "final word" are they actually expected to enforce?

The law doesn't really protect truthful meat inspectors who dare to jeopardize industry comfort. Reporting meat safety and humane handling violations can mean harsh repercussions – not for the producer, but for the inspector or veterinarian reporting them.

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Is there a Mystery Cargill Turkey Whistleblower?

turkeyfarm_attPhoto via flickr user cyanocoraxOnly when foodborne illness hits the mainstream media -- such as the recent (and justified) hubbub over antibiotic-resistant Salmonella outbreak tied to ground turkey -- do we all start to think about what actually goes on at meat processing plants and the workers there.

An NPR blog post Friday listed obstacles in the food safety oversight system that can cause horrific delays to massive recalls after a problem is known to exist (such as food giant Cargill's recall of the Salmonella- tainted turkey long after government officials were aware of contamination).

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Hog Farm Whistleblower Proves Undercover Videos’ Importance

An undercover video released Wednesday documents the shocking treatment of hogs at one of the nation's largest pork production facilities.

The footage -- which shows pigs being thrown across the room, and being castrated and having their tails removed without painkillers -- was taken by advocacy group Mercy for Animals at Iowa Select Farms from mid-April to mid-June of this year, just as Iowa state officials were debating a proposed bill that would criminalize such recordings.

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Food Pathogen Report Reinforces Whistleblower Concerns

A new report by the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute identifies the top 10 food-pathogen combinations that sicken thousands and cost millions of dollars every year. breaks down the list:

The food-pathogen combinations were ranked according to annual short- and long-term costs, and also by the loss of quality adjusted life years (QALYs), a standardized measure used in public health to assess pain, suffering, and other impacts to quality of life. The list includes:

  • Campylobacter in poultry — costs $1.3 billion a year
  • Toxoplasma in pork — costs $1.2 billion a year
  • Listeria in deli meats — costs $1.1 billion a year
  • Salmonella in poultry — costs $700 million a year
  • Listeria in dairy products — costs $700 million a year
  • Salmonella in complex foods — costs $600 million a year
  • Norovirus in complex foods — costs $900 million a year
  • Salmonella in produce — costs $500 million a year
  • Toxoplasma in beef — costs $700 million a year
  • Salmonella in eggs — costs $400 million a year
Campylobacter bacteria

Poultry contaminated with Campylobacter -- a bacteria that can cause vomiting and even lead to hospitalization or death -- made it to the top of the list, sickening more than 600,000 Americans per year, according to the institute's news release.

Former GAP client and USDA veterinarian Dean Wyatt, who blew the whistle on inhumane handling at two different slaughterhouses, pointed out the fact that USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service doesn't even have a testing procedure or standards for Campylobacter, despite it being an "extremely common cause of food-borne illness in poultry."

In a statement submitted to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) for their 2010 survey of FDA and USDA employees regarding corporate influence in the food system, Wyatt also brought up the double-standard when it comes to poultry tainted with Salmonella, which appears multiple times in the top 10 list, versus beef.

"When inspectors test the poultry for Salmonella, federal rules allow a 50 percent positive rate for the bacteria…Meanwhile, if federal tests show ground beef to be positive for Salmonella, there's a recall. It seems that poultry producers, for some reason, are given a pass when it comes to Salmonella."

The UCS survey results underline the concerns that Wyatt and many other whistleblowers have tried to raise regarding food safety that have been stifled by industry interests, including fast line speeds that let more than 100 birds go by in an hour … incapable of being adequately cleaned of fecal matter.

In the recent UF report, researchers recommend better coordination between food oversight agencies to "prioritize limited resources in ways that best protect consumers" from these pathogens. It may also be vital to suggest that they encourage, rather than discourage, agency employees to voice what they see as threats to our food supply.

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

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Proposed Anti-Whistleblower Laws Threaten Food Integrity

A commercial meat chicken production house in Florida (Source: USDA)

When it comes to bringing horrific truths to the public eye, undercover footage and images are often an effective outlet for whistleblowers who otherwise risk retaliation when speaking up. Such use of media to promote transparency in our food system has come under attack, however, in recently proposed legislation.

Florida state Senator Jim Norman (R-Tampa) introduced a bill that criminalizes those who photograph farms without written consent of the owner, making the act a first-degree felony in Florida. Animal advocacy groups have fervently criticized the bill for "comparing a potential whistleblower who might expose the realities of factory farming…with those who commit murder or armed robbery." Rather than targeting the structures within Big Ag that lead to violations such as inhumane handling and stifle workers' concerns regarding such violations, Senator Norman is attacking the efforts that threaten the industry's ability to keep them in place.

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In Memoriam: Dr. Dean Wyatt, Animal Welfare Whistleblower and Food Safety Advocate

GAP mourns the passing of our client, Dr. Dean Wyatt, who succumbed to brain cancer on November 11, 2010 at the age of 59.

Dr. Wyatt came to GAP roughly three years ago for legal assistance. During the course of our representation, we came to know Dr. Wyatt not only as a client but also as a friend. It was truly our honor and privilege to work with a man of such tremendous courage, conviction, and commitment to the truth.

As a USDA Public Health Veterinarian, Dr. Wyatt blew the whistle on inhumane handling at two slaughterhouses, which led to criminal prosecutions. Dr. Wyatt initially suffered intense retaliation for speaking out on these incidents of misconduct. However, after he risked his career by refusing to remain silent, NGOs, Congress, and even the USDA itself came to view Dr. Wyatt’s insight as essential for identifying and resolving issues of humane handling, food safety, and whistleblower protection. By the time of his death, Dr. Wyatt had made the transition from marginalized whistleblower to respected expert.

Dr. Wyatt was a gracious and selfless individual who, like so many whistleblowers, had an unwavering commitment to doing the right and just thing. He firmly believed that it was his duty as a public servant to enforce humane slaughter laws and that his role as a Public Health Veterinarian demanded that he work to reduce the needless suffering of food animals. GAP was honored to assist him in his efforts to do so.

Albert Schweitzer reminded us to “think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight.” Dr. Wyatt challenged Congress and USDA officials to do just that when he spoke out before a House Subcommittee on inadequate enforcement of humane handling laws. In his testimony, he implored Congress to stop overlooking humane handling and the field inspectors, like him, who are ignored when they report it. At the hearing, graphic video of unchecked egregious animal abuse taken by an undercover Humane Society investigator was shown that substantiated Dr. Wyatt’s claims.

Not only a stalwart defender of humane handling practices, Dr. Wyatt took a stand for food safety. He worked with GAP along with other food safety organizations to bring attention to food safety inspection issues as well as inadequate testing protocols for foodborne pathogens. His disclosures regarding food safety have been cited by multiple media outlets and used as advocacy tools to advance food safety legislation and reforms. A courageous whistleblower and friend, Dr. Wyatt never stopped fighting for greater transparency and accountability within the system.

In our work, we are honored to work with individuals who sacrifice their own interests for the health and safety of others. Dr. Wyatt was such an individual. Humble and gracious, Dr. Wyatt never hesitated to thank GAP for its assistance. But indeed, it was our pleasure and gift to be of counsel.

GAP extends its sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

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