It’s Sunshine Week – the time of year when our fellow watchdog groups come together to champion the cause of transparency. The Food Integrity Campaign advocates for a transparent food system year-round, but this week is a good reminder to the powers that be of the work still left to do.
Particularly in the food system, battles for transparency are everywhere. On the one hand, states are trying to keep the truth about factory farms from the public via anti-whistleblower Ag Gag laws. Industrial farms, which literally shut out sunlight, don’t want their shady practices to reach the light of day either. FIC has opposed Ag Gag legislation since they were introduced en masse in 2011. More than 40,000 people have signed our petition urging Congress to Stop Big Ag From Silencing Whistleblowers.
Another transparency obstacle many groups face is the resistance from government agencies to respond to information requests. From routine redactions to complete withholding of documents, the government’s supposed public interest seems to be in question. The FDA, for example, refused to answer FIC’s Freedom of Information Act request regarding antibiotic use in agriculture. We sued the FDA over their lack of response and are still waiting for the truth. With antibiotic resistance remaining an ongoing public health concern, basic data on how Big Ag is using antibiotics (or overusing, rather) should be easily accessible instead of dubiously hidden from view.
FIC is also helping citizen advocates in Hawaii fight biotech companies that don’t want to share how much pesticide they spray year-round on genetically engineered crops. We submitted requests to determine whether these companies exerted improper influence over Hawaii government officials during debate on pesticide transparency legislation.
Finally, outright harassment of whistleblowers is yet another way that both the government and industry attempt to escape transparency. The honest workers on the front lines of the food supply know what’s really going on but fear of retaliation (no thanks to the chilling effect of Ag Gag) makes it difficult for the truth to come out. That’s why FIC often speaks on behalf of anonymous whistleblowers as well as brave truth-tellers willing to risk everything so that you can be informed about your food.
Use the hashtag #SunshineWeek and @foodinteg on Twitter to share your call for transparency in the food system. It’s time to let the sun shine in.
Sarah Damian is Communications Manager for the Food Integrity Campaign.