UPDATE: Here is the Washington Post story about yesterday’s testimony.
Some interesting testimony was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. today before the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Domestic Policy. According to a news release from the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit whistleblower protection organization, a supervisory veterinarian with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service named Dean Wyatt will detail a long list of problems he claims to have observed at two different U.S. slaughterhouses.
Wyatt has fingered a Seaboard Foods pork plant in Guymon, Oklahoma and Bushway Packing, Inc. in Grand Isle, Vermont, saying he witnessed several cases of inhumane animal treatment and violations of food safety protocol. He says when he brought the problems to the attention of the FSIS, he was ignored in some cases and reprimanded in others. Seaboard Foods is a “top ten pork producer and processor in the United States,” according to their Web site, but Bushway Packing Inc. appears to be a smaller, single-location slaughterhouse. I can’t find a Web site for them, but a story in the Burlington (VT) Free Press said: “In an online trade magazine, Bushway is described as a small, custom slaughterhouse, certified for organic slaughter and processing through the Northeast Organic Farming Association.”
USA Today obtained a copy of Wyatt’s planned testimony today; here’s a quote from the testimony they ran in their article: “When upper-level FSIS management looks the other way as food safety or humane slaughter laws are broken … then management is just as guilty for breaking those laws.” If what Wyatt says is true, this is incredibly disturbing, especially in light of the huge product recalls that have occurred in the meat industry over the past few years.
In a recent story I wrote, I referenced a 145 million pound beef recall by the Westland/Hallmark processing plant in California. That plant was accused of slaughtering “downer cows,” or cattle that are obviously too sick to be put into the country’s meat supply. Some of that potentially contaminated meat ended up in Virginia school systems, and some was eaten before the recall was issued.
The difference in the size of the plants Wyatt has accused illustrates to me that it isn’t just the big, huge processing plants that can run afoul of food safety and humane treatment rules. But I would also advise against assuming that every slaughterhouse is the scene of violations. In fact, I believe it is cases like this that give meat processing in general a bad name.
I witnessed the killing of one animal and the processing of two others at Donald’s Meat Processing in Lexington, which has passed inspection for humane treatment and will be inspected on a yearly basis. Of course, I cannot say what happens when I’m not there, but the Virginia Department of Agriculture inspector there seemed incredibly vigilant, and while I was there, two of his supervisors showed up unannounced and without knowing I would be there.
As we continue to worry about the safety of the American food system, it is cases like Wyatt’s that should cause us all to perk up and pay attention. To read the entire press release from the Government Accountability Project (I warn you that it details some of the alleged inhumane treatment) click here.