Seattle Pet Laws Examiner: Jean-Pierre Ruiz

In testimony before the US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Dr. Dean Wyatt testified as to how the agency supports unhealthy practices at the national slaughterhouses and endangers the nation’s meat food supply.

Dr. Wyatt, a public health supervisory veterinarian with the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Services (“FSIS”; www.fsis.usda.gov/), testified to numerous instances where FSIS executives overruled his and other inspectors’ citations of slaughterhouses’ abuses endangering the safety of the nation’s meat supply. For example, Dr. Wyatt recounted such abuses and acts of cruelty as:

* cows being shot multiple times in the head regardless of regulations requiring immediate unconsciousness with a single bullet;
* calves being dragged and thrown, while others were deprived of food and water resulting in death from dehydration and starvation;
* conscious pigs shackled and stabbed on the slaughter line despite rules that they be stunned and unconscious before butchering;
* pigs being trampled by one another while being unloaded from a truck by a worker with a paddle;
* and a frustrated employee hitting a pig in the face 8-12 times.

Dr. Wyatt also testified that he was directed by his superiors to “drastically cut back” the time spent on ensuring that animals destined for food were treated humanely. In fact, according to Dr. Wyatt, he and other inspectors were chastised, reprimanded, and demoted for reporting violations. Dr. Wyatt was also threatened with termination.

Prior to his testimony, Dr. Wyatt had issued orders to shut down of Vermont’s Bushway Packing on three different occasions. Each time, Dr. Wyatt’s superiors overruled his orders and allowed the plant to reopen without it addressing the underlying health and humane issues. Subsequently, in October 2009, the Humane Society of the United States video-recorded the same instances of inhumane abuse at Bushway triggering a flood of calls for reform of the industry (www.humanesociety.org/news/news/2009/10/calf_investigation_103009.html).

Dr. Wyatt’s testimony coincided with a report from the Government Accountability Office reprimanding FSIS for its lax enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (“HMSA”; uscode.house.gov/download/pls/07C48.txt). FSIS was also reprimanded for lacking a comprehensive hiring strategy, as well as a lack of clarity in guiding and training inspectors.

Deputy undersecretary for Food Safety at the USDA, Jerold R. Mande, told the subcommittee, “I want to assure [the subcommittee] that [FSIS is] deeply committed to the humane handling of livestock and to meeting the [FSIS’s] obligations to enforce HMSA at federally inspected establishments.” Mande further testified that FSIS is making a series of improvements to its enforcement of animal-handling practices within slaughter facilities.

Asked why he blew the whistle and ruined his career, Dr. Wyatt responded: “I truly believe that the USDA inspector is the only advocate animals have in slaughter plants. When we turn our backs on the helpless, when we fail to speak on behalf of the voiceless, when we tolerate animal abuse and suffering, then the moral compass of a just and compassionate society is gone.”

The agency’s actions and inactions may go a long way to explain the rash of salmonella and e. coli outbreaks over the last few years.

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