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Experts to Analyze New Whistleblower Protections

The Government Accountability Project, the nation’s leading whistleblower organization, is hosting a meeting of legal experts, whistleblowers, and food safety experts in Washington, D.C. Friday to discuss the “far-reaching implications” of the legal protections for food industry workers included in the new food safety law.

According to GAP, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act establishes the first-ever private sector whistleblower protections enacted specifically for the food industry. The new law allows whistleblowers to speak out about violations–involving FDA-regulated food products–at any point in the food supply chain without fearing retaliation.

“This is a sea change for the food industry,” said GAP Food Integrity Campaign director Amanda Hitt. “The new law provides monumental reforms, and we’re going to spotlight how the whistleblower provision is a huge step for private sector employees and its ability to protect consumers. Giving industry workers a safe channel to report bad practices is paramount to safeguarding public health.”

For example, according to GAP, protections would now extend to a line worker who is demoted for refusing to pack eggs he or she reasonably believes could be contaminated with Salmonella or to a peanut butter plant manager who is fired for providing FDA positive pathogen test results.

Friday’s conference, hosted by the American University Washington College of Law, will feature high-profile food industry whistleblowers, including:

— Kit Foshee, former Corporate Quality Assurance Manager at the nation’s leading producer of lean boneless beef, Beef Products, Inc (BPI). As GAP explains: “Foshee was fired for refusing to participate in his company’s knowing misrepresentation of microbial data to the USDA and FDA, and false claims made to customers about product safety. Foshee proved that BPI was knowingly overstating the safety benefits regarding its ammonia-beef treatment process. BPI meat is included in 80 percent of the hamburgers consumed in the United States, including at fast-food restaurants and the national school lunch program.”

— Former Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) assistant plant manager Kenneth Kendrick repeatedly reported to the Texas Department of Health incidences of rat infestation at his plant, and animal droppings falling into product, and a roof leak that allowed rainwater contaminated with bird feces to drip onto peanuts. “All of this happened before the massive Salmonella outbreak of 2009. Although the widespread Salmonella contamination was traced to PCA’s Georgia plant, it was Kendrick’s whistleblowing on Good Morning America that belied the company’s defense that the batch of peanut butter from the Georgia plant was an unexpected and isolated event,” explained GAP, in a recent press release.

Experts from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food & Water Watch, Union of Concerned Scientists, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Public Health Law Network, Farmworker Justice, and several others are expected to participate in the conference.

Food safety advocate and attorney Bill Marler, managing partner of Marler Clark LLP, publisher of Food Safety News, is keynoting the event.

More information on the seminar is available On the Whistelblower Website.

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