The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has praised the inclusion of whistleblower protections in the food safety bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama early in the New Year.
GAP is a non-profit advocacy organization with the stated aim of protecting the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability, and a strong advocate of whistleblower protections.
The Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed by Congress this week establishes protections for “employees of entities involved in the manufacturing, processing, packing, transporting, distribution, reception, holding, or importation of food who provide information relating to any violation of the FFDCA [the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act].”
The bill is the first to specifically cover food industry workers who refuse to knowingly violate FDA safety regulations or who provide information of such violations to authorities.
GAP Food Integrity Campaign director Amanda Hitt said: "These whistleblower protection provisions are a monumental change in public health protection, and a huge win for food safety. Whistleblower rights don’t get any stronger than this. Without a doubt, these protections will allow more workers to come forward before outbreaks, which will save lives and enhance food integrity. Lawmakers who made this happen should be commended for standing up for public health."
However, the organization expressed concern that the protections only cover workers associated with food facilities and distribution networks that are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA oversees the safety of about 80 percent of the US food supply, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for meat and poultry.
GAP legal director Tom Devine said: “There is no rational excuse to protect corporate workers challenging violations of FDA food safety laws while allowing them to keep getting fired at will for defending USDA food safety laws.”
The bill also specifies that whistleblower protections for those who highlight violations of FDA safety regulations cannot be canceled out by preconditions for employment.