Another USDA whistleblower on BSE
- (from The Agribusiness Examiner)
INTEREST GROUPS PROTEST USDA'S
RETALIATORY CAMPAIGN AGAINST
MEAT INSPECTION UNION CHAIRMAN
PUBLIC CITIZEN: Eighteen farm, consumer and public interest groups
today delivered a letter to new Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns,
expressing their concern about the apparent retaliation against the
chairman of the National Joint Council of Food Inspection Locals
(NJC), who recently made disclosures covered by the Whistleblower
Protection Act about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA)
rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow
On December 8, 2004, NJC chair Charles Painter sent a letter, on
behalf of the NJC (the government meat inspectors' union), to the
USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), outlining concerns
about the removal of "specified risk materials" (SRMs) from cattle
and FSIS inspectors' ability to enforce the export requirements for
products destined for Mexico. SRMS are the nervous system tissues
believed to be most likely to carry the infectious prions that cause
mad cow disease.
Among his concerns:
1) Plant employees are not correctly identifying and marking animals
over 30 months old, which means plant employees and government
personnel further down the line are unaware that numerous parts
should be removed as SRMs and these high-risk materials are entering
the food supply, and
2) [Production line] inspectors are not authorized by the USDA to
take actions when they see plant employees sending products that do
not meet export requirements past the point on the line where they
can be identified and removed.
Rather than addressing the issues raised, the USDA reacted to the
letter by directing extraordinary resources to targeting the NCJ
chairman and other regional union presidents:
* On December 23, FSIS compliance officer appeared unannounced at the
home of Painter, while he was on annual leave, to question him about
the allegations in the letter.
* On December 28, Painter received a notice from FSIS that he was
under formal investigation.
* On January 6, Painter was ordered to Washington, D.C., to be
questioned for three hours by FSIS.
* On January 7, seven regional council presidents for the NJC also
were ordered to appear in Washington, D.C., on January 11 for an
"Mr. Painter offered this information to the USDA because he was
concerned that the agency's inadequate policy could put consumers in
danger," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's food
program. "The USDA should have been grateful, but it chose to attack
the whistleblower instead of attacking the problem.
Secretary Johanns has emphasized that USDA employees should be
treated with `equality, dignity, and respect.' We urge him to live
up to those words and stop this retaliatory investigation of Mr.
In his letter, Painter did not identify specific plants where reports
had come from, because he did not know. In fact, he chose not to
learn the identity of the plants so that he would not be forced to
disclose this information, which could allow the agency to take
retaliatory action against the inspectors assigned to these plants.
"This case presents a classic example of the value and necessity of
whistleblowers," the letter from the public interest groups
said. "The concerns outlined by Mr. Painter's letter are of vital
interest to consumers, especially in light of recent announcements of
the discovery of two more cases of mad cow disease in Canada and the
agency's intent to re-establish imports of live animals from Canada.
The public has the right to know that the reality inside meat plants
is not the same as the picture being painted for the media by USDA
officials in Washington, D.C."
The groups urge Johanns to immediately investigate this incident and
to reconsider the decision to initiate a formal misconduct
investigation of Painter. The USDA also should take steps necessary
to establish an environment inside FSIS that encourages employees to
disclose issues of waste, fraud or threats to public health, the
The groups signing onto the letter include: the American Corn Growers
Association, Cancer Prevention Coalition, Center for Food Safety,
Community Nutrition Institute, Consumer Federation of America,
Consumer Policy Institute/Consumers Union, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease
Foundation, Inc., Family Farm Defenders, Government Accountability
Project, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment, Institute
for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Iowa Farmers Union, Lane County
Food Coalition, Organic Consumers Association, Public Citizen, Safe
Tables Our Priority, The Humane Society of the United States and the
Weston A. Price Foundation. [ January 26, 2005 ]
To read the groups' letter, please go to
To read Charles Painter's letter, please go to