The Vermont Attorney General announced today that arrest warrants have been issued for former Bushway Packing, Inc. owner Frank Peretta and former Bushway worker Christopher Gaudette on charges of animal cruelty in the Bushway case. The case attracted national attention last fall, when the Humane Society of the United States released shocking video footage of operations at Bushway showing animals being repeatedly stunned with electrical prods, too weak to stand on their own, and stabbed for bloodletting while still conscious.
However, while the Humane Society footage spurred action, GAP client and USDA Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Dean Wyatt had been warning of problems at Bushway for months before. As detailed in Dr. Wyatt’s testimony earlier this year in front of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Dr. Wyatt had attempted to stop inhumane handling practices not only at Bushway, but also at his previous assignment at the Seaboard pork plant in Guymon, Oklahoma. How did Dr. Wyatt’s supervisors at the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service react? They overturned his reports of animal cruelty based solely on the word of plant ownership, they forced him out of his job in Oklahoma, and the Director of the Office of Field Operations for FSIS even wrote a letter to Congress calling Dr. Wyatt “incompetent” for his charges of animal cruelty.
Fortunately for Dr. Wyatt, the Humane Society video tape vindicated his charge that there was something very wrong in the way Bushway was treating its animals. To the credit of USDA leadership, once the video evidence became clear, the agency was very aggressive in taking action on Bushway in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement.
GAP is happy to see real consequences for the people who engaged in animal abuse at Bushway. However, not every whistleblower is lucky enough to have an independent secret videotape investigation to surface and support his or her claims. How many others like Dean Wyatt are out there, being ignored and marginalized for speaking out against industry interests?
Jonathan Cantú is Food and Public Health Counsel at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.