USDA whistleblower courageously shined spotlight on inhumane slaughter practices
The Humane Society of the United States expressed its deep sadness on the death of Dr. Dean Wyatt, a dedicated supervisory public health veterinarian for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, who served the agency and the public for more than 18 years and called attention to inhumane practices and food safety concerns at slaughter plants under his watch. Dr. Wyatt succumbed on Sunday to brain cancer, coupled with respiratory and cardiac arrest. He was living in Tyler, Minn., with his family when he died.
“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 HSUS. “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. 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 USDA is considering Dr. Wyatt’s proposal to establish an ombudsman so field inspectors have a place to go where they can report problems when they are not being supported by their supervisors. By his vision, the ombudsman would provide inspectors with an avenue to take their concerns and grievances and help ensure that they are able to carry out their responsibilities – both food safety and humane slaughter – without undue interference. The HSUS is urging the USDA to implement the ombudsman proposal before the end of this year as a lasting tribute to Dr. Wyatt and his courageous determination to improve agency oversight.
- The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act requires that “the handling of livestock in connection with slaughter shall be carried out only by humane methods,” and that livestock be “rendered insensible to pain by a…means that is rapid and effective, before being shackled, hoisted, thrown, cut, or cast.”
- Speaking to his great spirit of generosity, Dr. Wyatt was a registered organ donor.
- February 2008: Dr. Wyatt privately contacted The HSUS following news of our undercover investigation at the Hallmark/Westland slaughter plant in Chino, Calif., which revealed horrendous abuse of downed cows too sick and injured to stand and walk and led to the largest beef recall in U.S. history. He voiced concerns that, in response to the Hallmark case, FSIS had instructed inspectors to report the most serious humane handling violations only via faxed documents, outside the computerized data base of “noncompliance reports” that is accessible to other inspectors, the media, Congress, and the public.
- August and September 2009: Acting on concerns flagged to us privately by Dr. Wyatt, but unbeknownst to him, The HSUS began an undercover investigation of Bushway Packing, Inc., a plant in Vermont that specialized in the slaughter of baby calves, most less than a week old. Our hidden camera documented animals being subjected to extreme and repeated electrical shocks, kicking, dragging, and even being skinned alive directly in front of another USDA inspector who allowed the abuse to continue.
- November 2009: Thanks to his whistleblower tips that prompted our undercover investigation, the Bushway plant was immediately shut down by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Vermont officials. Dr. Wyatt met with senior staff for Secretary Vilsack and shared his ideas for strengthening agency oversight. The HSUS urged the USDA to adopt reforms including many of Dr. Wyatt’s recommendations. More than 50,000 individuals wrote to the agency seeking a set of reforms to help prevent animal cruelty, featuring his ombudsman proposal.
- March 2010: Dr. Wyatt testified at a congressional hearing for the House Oversight Committee’s Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, chaired by Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, entitled “Continuing Problems in USDA’s Enforcement of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.” He gave a detailed account of the inhumane treatment he tried to stop at the Seaboard Farms hog plant in Oklahoma, including pigs being trampled as they were aggressively unloaded from trucks, hit hard by plant workers and slaughtered while still awake, blinking and kicking, as well as his experiences at the Bushway plant. He also testified to the lack of support from FSIS management, as they second-guessed decisions by field inspectors, looked the other way when food safety and humane slaughter laws were broken, and retaliated against personnel trying to enforce those laws. His testimony and the media attention it generated inspired other inspectors and citizens who contacted him to offer their thanks for his courage.
- Fall 2010: USDA began development of training materials for a new computer system anticipated to go online in spring 2011, which will enable inspectors and others to review a comprehensive historical summary of each slaughter plant, including any serious humane handling violations that had been reported via faxed memo.
- October 2010: One of the co-owners of Bushway Packing pled no contest to animal cruelty charges, agreeing to a lifetime ban on working in animal husbandry or the slaughter industry.
- November 2010: FSIS overturned an earlier ruling on an issue identified by Dr. Wyatt, agreeing to his recommendation that slaughter plants be prohibited from affixing a rope around the legs of animals before they are stunned, a practice that could result in animals being injured or hoisted upside down while fully conscious.
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