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Another USDA whistleblower on BSE

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  • Virgil
    (from The Agribusiness Examiner) 18 CONSUMER FARM PUBLIC INTEREST GROUPS PROTEST USDA S RETALIATORY CAMPAIGN AGAINST MEAT INSPECTION UNION CHAIRMAN PUBLIC
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 6, 2005
      (from The Agribusiness Examiner)

      18 CONSUMER\FARM\PUBLIC
      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
      disease.

      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
      interview.

      "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.
      Painter."

      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
      groups said.

      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
      http://www.citizen.org/cmep/foodsafety/madcow/articles.cfm?ID=12883

      To read Charles Painter's letter, please go to
      http://www.citizen.org/documents/NJCletter-12-8-04.pdf
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