US Congress has finally passed what have been described as “the strongest federal whistleblower protections in history”, according to the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign (FIC).
The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was finally passed in the Senate on November 13 and is being sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
Earlier proposals were criticised for inadequate coverage of federal employees. However, under the new legislation, a federal employee is now protected even when he or she:
- Is not the first person who discloses misconduct
- Blows the whistle while carrying out job duties
- Makes a disclosure to a supervisor
- Discloses the consequences of a policy decision
- Does not have incontrovertible proof of government misconduct
The FIC provided examples where the new law would protect individuals who were previously vulnerable.
These would include a Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) district office manager reporting complaints by FSIS poultry inspectors that increased line speeds had made it impossible for workers to pull all potentially contaminated birds off a line.
Other instances are a Food & Drug Administration (FDA) inspector exposing falsification of salmonella records at a cantaloupe farm and an FDA researcher being stifled by senior management from publishing findings on a controversial food ingredient.
FIC said the new rules would have safeguarded previous whistleblowers from mistreatment. These included Dr Dean Wyatt, a USDA public health vet who continually tried to blow the whistle on slaughterhouse animal abuse.
USDA transferred Wyatt to another slaughterhouse and imposed other forms of retaliation as attempts to silence his concerns. He was only vindicated when an outside group took undercover video of the wrongdoing that he alleged was taking place.
In addition, FDA Public Health Service officer Renee Dufault would have been safeguarded and may not have felt obliged to quit after trying to reveal findings of mercury in foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
“Today, FIC is praising Congress for passing the strongest federal whistleblower protections in history,” the FIC said.
America’s food a lot safer
“America’s food just got a lot safer,” said FIC director Amanda Hitt. “Government workers who serve as the public’s watchdog are now themselves safe from retaliation. Federal food safety employees have finally been deputized to protect the food supply.”
However, she called for even stronger protections for food worker rights. “We’re not done yet – these protections only cover federal food employees. The 2011 Food Safety Modernisation Act protects corporate workers exposing problems with FDA-regulated products.
“However, 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.”