Dr. Dean Wyatt, the Food Safety and Inspection Service veterinarian who blew the whistle on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for ignoring humane treatment and food safety violations, succumbed to brain cancer and complications earlier this month.
A public health veterinarian at FSIS, Wyatt jeopardized his 18-year career at USDA by calling out agency officials for thwarting his attempt to enforce humane slaughter laws.
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 last spring.
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 inhumane handling violations that were eventually caught on tape by an undercover Humane Society operative. The video set off a media firestorm and sparked a criminal investigation into the owners of the plant.
The Humane Society of the United States expressed its deep condolences over Dr. Wyatt’s death.
“Dr. Wyatt was an extraordinary man whose courage and compassion were an inspiration to all of us in the animal protection community,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.m “He paid attention to the law and his responsibility to enforce it, and he was not passive when he saw cruelties committed against animals in slaughter plants.”
“Dr. Wyatt saw the importance of animal welfare and spoke up even when it put his long career of service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in jeopardy,” said HSUS in a statement. “Over the years, he faced intense pressure from his agency superiors, who often sided with corporate management seeking to dismiss complaints of abuse. His determination to bring atrocities to light took a heavy toll on him professionally and personally but he was passionate and unflagging in his commitment.”
The Government Accountability Project, a Washington, DC-based whistleblower advocacy organization that worked extensively with Wyatt, also released a statement upon news of his passing.
“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.”
The USDA is considering a proposal by Dr. Wyatt to establish an ombudsman so field inspectors have a place to report problems when they are not being supported by their supervisors.