By LINDA LARSEN
On Tuesday, November 13, 2012, the Senate approved the Whistleblower Protection Act, which provides new protections for federal employees. The legislation passed the House in September. President Obama is expected to sign the bill.
The Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) has listed types of actions that would be protected under the new law. They include, for example, an FDA inspector who exposes falsification of records at farms, a public health veterinarian telling a USDA supervisor that a slaughterhouse is violating humane handling regulations, and an FDA researcher whose attempts to publish new findings on a food ingredient are suppressed. It also protects government scientists who challenge censorship and cancels the 1999 precedent that translates “reasonable belief” to require irrefragable proof before they are eligible for protection.
FIC Director Amanda Hitt said in a statement, “America’s food just got a lot safer. 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.”
The law will overturn legal precedent that limited protections for government employee whistleblowers, and cover employees who are not currently covered under the law. It will also hold agencies accountable for any retaliatory investigations and restore the Office of Special Counsel’s ability to seek disciplinary measures. However, the Food Integrity Campaign said that 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.”
Several states have passed laws against whistleblowers this year. Missouri passed a so-called “Ag-Gag” bill in May 2012 that makes it a crime to record undercover pictures and videos on factory farms. Utah also passed an anti-whistleblower bill that was opposed by Mercy for Animals and the Global Animal. The state of Iowa passed a similar measure in February 2012.