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FDA whistleblowers treated like skunks at a picnic

A lawsuit filed against the FDA for targeting whistleblowers reveals the extent to which the FDA goes to protect its secrets. In a strong letter to the FDA  U.S. Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said whistleblowers are “often treated like skunks at a picnic”.

Health officials in the FDA know know, that, unless they like being thrown under the bus for blowing the whistle, the threat of persecution has created a climate of fear so profound that many would rather keep their mouth shut than face the sh*t-storm should they go public.

The creepy case involving the FDA’s illegal practice of spying on employees recently revealed that “targeted monitoring” has a devastating chilling effect on all public employees, strangling the ability of the American public and Congress to learn about misconduct and corruption in the federal government. The FDA is accused of unconstitutionally targeting one group of employees simply because they had the guts to speak up about misconduct within the FDA.

“Who would have thought that they would have the nerve to be monitoring my communications to Congress?” said Robert C. Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, a former radiology professor at Yale and Cornell University who worked as a device reviewer at the FDA “How dare they?”. Indeed.

Senator Grassley, the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a highly respected advocate of government oversight launched an investigation in response to a lawsuit filed by six FDA whistleblowers. Documents released by the National Whistleblowers Center that show the FDA targeted whistleblowers for special monitoring and intercepted personal communications to Congress, including emails to Senator Grassley’s staff.

Many whistleblowers turn to the private sector for support after their food safety concerns were dismissed by agency management. A common report is that the agency backs industry when there is a dispute. Whistleblower disclosures suggest that agencies behave as if they are accountable to the industries they are supposed to be regulating rather than the public. This phenomenon is often referred to as “regulatory capture.” This may be due to out-and-out corruption or to intensive industry lobbying. As often as not, it is the infamous “revolving door” between industry and agency at work.

Whistleblowers, both private and public, often discover that there is little the FDA, USDA, or other agencies can do to help. Not only are agencies limited by their oversight functions, they are also limited in their ability to adequately prevent and efficiently react to contamination and outbreaks. The FDA, which is responsible for regulating almost 80 percent of the food supply, neither has authority nor resources to punish or deter corporate bad actors who refuse to comply with food safety regulations.

For Public Health Service officers, no protection for whistleblowing, Washington Post; March 13, 2012
FDA Complaint,; January 25, 2012

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.

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