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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2010
1:56 PM

CONTACT: Government Accountability Project

Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Dir.
202.457.0034, ext. 137
dylanb@whistleblower.org

Slaughterhouse Whistleblower Reveals Inhumane Animal Treatment, Food Integrity Violations

FSIS Ignores Serious Problems and Retaliates Against Whistleblower; GAP Client Dean Wyatt to Testify Today Before House Committee

WASHINGTON - March 4 - EST this afternoon, Government Accountability Project (GAP) client and federal food safety inspector Dean Wyatt will testify before a House of Representatives Subcommittee, and blow the whistle on a laundry list of problems he witnessed at two major meat-packing plants. The egregious nature of the violations and the subsequent reaction by the USDA's Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) regional offices raise serious questions about the current state of national food integrity oversight, the FSIS attitude toward and treatment of whistleblowers, and the overall state of food safety in America.

The hearing will be held by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, at 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.

Wyatt has been a public health veterinarian with FSIS for more than 18 years. FSIS is the primary government department charged with monitoring the inner workings of food processing plants, and guarding against any threats to public safety or inhumane animal treatment. Before raising concerns, Wyatt was repeatedly lauded for his work performance from both inside and outside the agency, and received numerous performance awards and veterinary honors over the past decade.

However, as Wyatt's experiences clearly illustrate, FSIS officials continually chose to ignore shocking reports of inhumane treatment and safety violations. Instead, FSIS reprimanded him on several occasions for trying to hold the incompliant plants accountable, and subjected him to a slew of blatant retaliatory actions. These included the ordering of obviously unnecessary remedial training that damaged his professional reputation, writing a letter of reprimand, and forcing him to transfer to a different plant.

"The evidence and testimony presented by Dean Wyatt today will show that FSIS is more interested in keeping the food industry happy than protecting the public," said GAP Public Health Associate Jonathan Cantu. "There should be a full-scale investigation into how FSIS operates, treats it staff, and deals with non-compliance reports."

Oklahoma - Seaboard Farms

When Wyatt attempted to enforce food safety laws at the Seaboard Farms plant in Oklahoma from March 2007 to May 2008, his FSIS superiors repeatedly retaliated against him. Wyatt's disclosures at the hearing will cover his experiences at that plant, and at the Bushway Packing plant in Vermont. Specifically, Wyatt will speak about the following atrocities that were committed at Seaboard:

  • Conscious pigs, shackled to the conveyor line, having their throats slit while kicking and squealing
  • Inhumane unloading of livestock off of trucks, to the point that several animals were trampled and crushed
  • Needless and unprovoked beating of animals

Wyatt wrote to the FSIS District Office (in Springdale, Arizona) about the preceding gross violations of safe and ethical animal handling laws in non-compliance reports (NRs), which is the proper procedure for reporting plant wrongdoing. The FSIS ignored his concerns and chose to bully, intimidate, and retaliate against him. Specifically:

  • After Wyatt notified the District Office about the slaughtering of live animals, the office chose to not speak with him directly about his allegations, and instead blanket-accepted the company's version of events.
  • After exposing the trampling of animals, on-site FSIS inspection personnel were chastised and blamed. Subsequently, plant officials simply erected panels to prevent FSIS personnel from viewing future offloading. When Wyatt informed the District Office of this, he was told to take no action. 
  • After Wyatt contacted the district office about the beating of pigs, Wyatt received a letter of reprimand.
  • After observing the forced trampling for a second time, and sending another NR, District Office management ordered him to drastically cut back on his humane-handling enforcement. Wyatt was also notified that he would be demoted to a non-supervisory position for two weeks.

This sort of cycle repeated itself until, in another act of retaliation, Wyatt was informed he had to leave the plant and transfer to another site.

Vermont - Bushway Packing

Wyatt then moved to the Bushway Packing plant in Vermont. Shockingly, Wyatt found that the abuse levels and acts of wrongdoing were horrific at this plant as well, and that the regional FSIS District Office (Albany, NY) was also unwilling to intervene and solve the problem. Problems at this site included:

  • Cattle were haphazardly shot, resulting in repeated firings being necessary, and in some cases animals were left writhing in pain with head-shot injuries
  • Baby calves were being dragged on the ground because they were too young, weak, and dehydrated to stand. Some of these calves were then thrown in the air into pens.
  • The FSIS District Office gave specific orders to plant management, demanding that the calf-stunning area be decreased in size (to safeguard the animal's wellbeing when stunned). After the plant manager became angry and protested, the District Office backed down, and no changes were implemented. 

Retaliation and response to Wyatt's concerns regarding these problems was similar to those he experienced while in Oklahoma - his allegations, written up in NRs, were largely ignored or downplayed. The Vermont plant manager then discovered Wyatt's past "problems" at the Oklahoma plant, and claimed that Wyatt was harassing him. FSIS supervisors then ordered Wyatt to attend remedial training classes - a unique punishment for someone of Wyatt's background and stature - which was later made public in a newsletter sent throughout the industry, damaging Wyatt's professional reputation.

Validation

Wyatt turned to GAP. Until today, his disclosures to several government officials have remained anonymous, and have prompted much needed and greater scrutiny of the situation. In addition, Wyatt's concerns about plant treatment of animals were validated last year when a Humane Society of the United States undercover worker infiltrated the Vermont plant and exposed graphic and shocking forms of inhumane animal treatment. The video garnered national media attention and also alluded to plant officials actively trying to hide wrongdoing from Wyatt. On camera, one of Wyatt's subordinates told plant personnel only to engage in violations when Wyatt was not present.

"This smoking gun proves that FSIS cannot perform its function of ensuring food integrity, and that the agency takes a punitive stance against whistleblowers" stated GAP Public Health Associate Amanda Hitt. "Wyatt's experiences at these two separate plants illustrate a pattern that FSIS is broken, and must be fixed immediately."

Recommendations

Wyatt has supplied several recommendations to the committee about what actions should be taken to fix these problems permanently. Besides holding accountable those responsible for the retaliation against him, Wyatt has outlined how: 1) FSIS needs more staffers at each plant in order to catch all potential violations of food integrity; 2) the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act must be passed; and 3) a through revamping must be undertaken of the non-compliance reporting system (the method by which FSIS field staff report violations).

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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.


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