As a supervisory veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, Dean Wyatt monitors slaughterhouses for both food-safety and animal-cruelty violations. More often than not, though, his supervisors have ignored his warnings and allowed renegade plants to operate. As a result, animals were subject to horrific abuses and Americans were susceptible to food-borne illness.
Wyatt testified this month before a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee that his reports and those of other supervisors were ignored, and writers of such citations were criticized and threatened.
Wyatt described instances in which he reported the mistreatment of pigs in an Oklahoma slaughterhouse, to no avail. The plant appealed his decisions to district managers hundreds of miles away, and they sided with the company.
In Vermont, where he now works, Wyatt witnessed the mishandling of calves and three times ordered a Bushway Packing plant to shut down. Each time, though, Wyatt’s superiors allowed the plant to reopen and Wyatt was ordered to attend training sessions that were meant as punishment.
Wyatt might still be defending himself were it not for an undercover member of The Humane Society of the United States, who shot and released undercover footage of mistreatment of animals at the Bushway plant Wyatt had written up. The plant is now closed, and a criminal investigation is under way.
RETALIATION FOR WHISTLE-BLOWING
- Wyatt said he and other supervisors were overruled even when they cited slaughterhouses for:
- Shocking and butchering days-old calves that are too weak or sick to stand.
- Butchering conscious pigs even though the law demands that they be unconscious.
- Dragging downed calves through pens to slaughter, bringing them into contact with excrement and contaminating them.
- Beating and trampling pigs.
Wyatt suffered years of retaliation for his whistle-blowing, before the undercover video and a report released by the Government Accountability Office confirmed his assertions about the slaughterhouse industry, and about the agency charged with overseeing it.
When agencies charged with the oversight of industries side with the corporations they regulate rather than the people they are sworn to protect, Americans suffer. This is particularly dangerous in the food industry, for which it is estimated that food-borne illness costs $152 billion per year, and causes 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
USDA spokesman Caleb Weaver said Wyatt’s reports came before Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack took the job, and the secretary is “fully committed” to enforcing safe-and-humane slaughtering rules. Obama administration officials said they are working to improve enforcement standards.
The USDA exists to protect Americans from illness, not to protect slaughterhouses from inspectors who are trying to do their jobs.