For Immediate Release
WPEA Signed into Law, Protecting Federal Food Safety Employees
Millions of federal workers affected
WASHINGTON - Today, the Government Accountability Project's (GAP) Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) is praising President Obama for signing into law the strongest federal whistleblower protections in history. The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) passed the House of Representatives in late September and the Senate earlier this month. This long overdue legislation overturns many loopholes and provides critically important upgrades to weak, current protections.
This law's enactment plays a significant role in food safety oversight, as it better protects those workers charged with enforcing food safety laws – including U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) veterinarians and inspectors, as well as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) employees. Over the past several years, FIC has heard from countless federal whistleblowers who desperately want to expose food industry wrongdoing or threats to public health, but chose to stay silent for fear that existing whistleblower protections will not effectively shield them from retaliation.
“Strong whistleblower protections mean safer food. This is a huge accomplishment,” said FIC Director Amanda Hitt. “We’re moving in the right direction. Government workers who serve as the public’s watchdog are now themselves safer from retaliation. Federal food safety employees have finally been deputized to protect the food supply.”
Under the new legislation's improvements, a federal employee is now protected even when s/he:
- is not the first person who discloses given misconduct
- blows the whistle while carrying out job duties
- makes a disclosure to a supervisor
- discloses the consequences of a policy decision, or
- does not have "irrefragable proof" (defined as "undeniable, incontestable, incontrovertible proof") of government misconduct.
For a fuller list of protections, see GAP's earlier press release about the law's passing here.
What Types of Whistleblowing Actions by Federal Food Workers are Now Protected?
There are a number of types of workers and disclosures that will now receive solid and enforceable whistleblower protections. They include:
- A public health veterinarian reporting to his/her USDA supervisor that a slaughterhouse repeatedly violated humane handling regulations
- An FDA inspector who tries to expose falsification of Salmonella records at a cantaloupe farm
- A Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) district office manager reporting frequent complaints by FSIS poultry inspectors that increased line speeds have made it impossible for workers to pull all potentially contaminated birds off the line
- An FDA researcher whose attempts at publishing new findings on a controversial food ingredient are stifled by upper management
Hitt reminds us that the job for safeguarding our country's food through whistleblower protections remains unfinished: "The WPEA protections only cover federal food employees and the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act protects corporate workers exposing problems with FDA-regulated products. But USDA-regulated product industry workers still lack protections. These workers – who monitor our beef, poultry, pork and egg products – still cannot safely speak up for the public welfare.”
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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.