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Vermont Veal Scandal Figure Pleads ‘No Contest’

Frank Perretta, owner of a now Bushway Packing slaughterhouse in Vermont has pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges, approximately one year after stomach-churning undercover footage was released by the Humane Society of the United States showing Bushway workers brutalizing calves.

The footage sparked national outrage and caused Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to order the plant closed and ordered a criminal investigation.

With Wednesday’s plea, Peretta will receive a suspended sentence of zero to one year, pay a fine of $2,000 and is ordered to complete 120 hours of community service, not involving work with animals, according to the Vermont Attorney General.  The court also ordered that Perretta forfeit “any future right to participate in any animal husbandry or slaughterhouse activity.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture public health veterinarian Dr. Dean Wyatt, an 18 year veteran of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, blew the whistle on agency supervisors for repeatedly ignoring violations of food safety and humane slaughter laws and for thwarting Wyatt’s attempt to enforce the law–the Bushway scandal added a greater layer of legitimacy to Wyatt’s claims.

Dr. Wyatt testified before a congressional oversight committee last Spring to highlight enforcement problems at the agency.

In 2007 and 2008, Wyatt cited Seaboard Farms in Oklahoma a half dozen times for non-compliance. The facility was written up for shackling and bleeding out pigs while they were conscious, aggressively unloading animals, and allowing pigs to slip and trample one another. Both the company and FSIS supervisors pushed back against Wyatt’s reports.

“FSIS officials who were hundreds of miles away simply took company personnel at their word that the egregious events I had personally witnessed did not justify my actions,” Wyatt said in his testimony before lawmakers.

According to Wyatt, he not only faced resistance within the USDA’s food safety agency for issuing non-compliance reports, he faced retaliation and was eventually transferred to Vermont, where he witnessed more humane handling violations that were eventually caught on tape by undercover an Humane Society operative.

The Government Accountability Project, the leading whistleblower advocacy organization, which has worked extensively with Wyatt, called the plea “good news.”

“We can only be so lucky to have more brave whistleblowers like Dr. Wyatt, who pushed on year after year even when everyone seemed against him. GAP continues to support efforts like his to hold the government accountable for monitoring our food supply,” said the organization in a statement.

Bushway Packing has since shut down, but was reopened under different management and a new name: Champlain Valley Meats, Inc.

Also see: USDA Vet Blows Whistle on Food Safety Agency, Congress Pledges Greater Oversight and Humane Society Video Closes Veal Plant.

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