Shooting the Messenger? Why We Need to Enable Whistleblowers

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Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Many people love to romanticize the role of the whistleblower.   After all, they play a unique and critical role in ferreting out fraud and government malfeasance, and they provide great social value to the public.  But in Canada there is no whistleblower protection for private sector workers, who are uniquely positioned to spot gaps in public safety.  While Ken Terpenning, former owner of slaughtered racehorse Silky Shark, didn’t expose an employer, I’m sure he gave great consideration to the cost/benefit analysis that all potential whistleblowers must make – what happens after speaking out?  After reading about the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition publication “Slaughterhouse Six,” Ken stepped forward  with Silky Shark’s drug records,  and subsequently wrote his own article in Harnesslink,  where he described Silky Shark’s slaughter  as personally devastating.  With the gaps filled in by Ken, the slaughter of this horse now became a right-to-know issue.  While owned by Mr. Terpenning,  Silky Shark was given phenylbutazone – “bute,” an NSAID  which is known to be a human carcinogen,  which while entirely legal, is completely banned from entering the food chain if given at any time during a horse’s lifecycle.  The CHDC followed up with the article “Proof of CFIA Failure.”

rightvswrongKen’s disclosure about Silky Shark’s  phenylbutazone use essentially confirmed yet more CFIA and slaughterhouse misfeasance, a lack of enforcement which could jeopardize the lives of others or the well-being of the public when non-food animals are used in the food chain.  The CFIA’s virtually non-existent testing protocols for phenylbutazone and other veterinary drugs are compounded by a sampling frequency too low to be meaningful for public health purposes.  The drug records certainly put the lie to the belief by the CFIA that they are running one of the world’s best food safety systems.  On numerous occasions,  journalists and watchdogs have exposed the CFIA for being  in violation of its own safety protocols. Phenylbutazone has a laundry list of grave effects in humans: According to an FDA newsletter from 2003, “Phenylbutazone is known to induce blood dyscrasias, including aplastic anemia, leukopenia, agranulocytosis, thrombocytopenia and deaths. In addition, phenylbutazone is a carcinogen, as determined by the National Toxicology Program.”

If you think that Canada’s EID system is an efficient or accurate program to identify horses who have received prohibited drugs, then you must also believe that kill buyer Tom Davis really did find good homes for 1,700 wild horses. The EID The Acme Whistle A British Classic And The Referees Favouritesystem hardly ensures a continuous medical record and certainly does not guarantee food safety, especially when one considers that the drug history of the horse can be completed at the auction and not by the owner, using a stamp instead of an original signature. It’s a barbaric, unsafe, discredited business – one giant trash heap of cruelty and drugged meat. It’s also a facade of false and incomplete paperwork, concealing incompetence and often outright deceit at the highest levels. Both the Humane Society of the United States and Front Range Equine Rescue have petitioned the USDA and the FDA to have horsemeat declared “tainted” and unfit for human consumption. In addition to the use of legal drugs, illegal horse drugging (including dermophin),  and slaughter are each inherently wrong, and both are worthy of staunch opposition.  What protocols exist to test for other drugs, especially illegal ones like “frog juice?”  I’ve asked the CFIA, but they’re certainly not talking to me.  I also asked them on what basis would they go public with anything? In fact, when providing their typical non-response to my last communication to them, Dr. Ian Alexander let slip that they’ve “got a file” on me.  Maybe I should get a FOIA on myself?  Go FOIA yourself!

whistleblower-green1Anticipated or not,  there was of course some backlash against Ken on both Latitude News and Marketplace where some readers (due to the similarly of the comments,  quite likely the same individual) took Ken to task  for “not loving Silky Shark enough” or “letting him escape through the cracks.”  A thinking person should see these types of criticisms as the vacuous nonsense that they are – Ken played no role in sending Silky Shark to slaughter, but the horse disappeared into the Amish community, which is well-known for trading in horseflesh in addition to being major puppymillers. The Amish, along with many other horse slaughter supporters, are probably not overly concerned with a European’s dinner.  On the other hand,  “the Europeans have been well-justified in placing restrictions on American-produced meat products, such as hormone-laced beef, Ractopomine-treated pork, and chlorine-washed chickens. It’s time for them to restrict imports of drugged-up horses, where the food safety case is even more obvious.

karen123

A poster on Marketplace criticizes Ken Terpenning instead of laying the blame where it belongs – with the last owner of Silky Shark, Leroy Baker (who signed EID) and the CFIA

This is a disappearing market, and EU will lay down the law in 2013. American and Canadian horses will NOT be on their menu. There is increasing evidence that horsemeat originating in the U.S. poses a public health threat to the domestic and foreign markets that fancy it. A recent notification made by the Belgian authorities to the European Commission confirmed the presence of two unauthorized substances, Clenbuterol and Phenylbutazone, in horsemeat that was imported into the European Union from Canada in June.

If a firm becomes negligent and the regulators are not up to the job, there’s another line of defence left – the whistleblower.  Whistleblowers might have changed the outcome of the listeriosis outbreak and the XL Foods recall.  Both were almost certainly preventable. As in all such incidents, those responsible would have us believe it was some kind of fluke, unforeseeable and beyond human control.  The systems used to protect food safety in modern facilities work superbly,  if they are actually implemented. They are based upon Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), a system devised by NASA to safeguard the food of its astronauts. But when sloppy practices are allowed to creep into production and there is no immediate consequence, they become the accepted norm: a process referred to as “risk normalization.” This erodes safety margins so that disaster will inevitably strike,  as it most surely will.

The CFIA reports directly to a Minister – Gerry Ritz, whose main job it seems is to promote the commercial success of the CFIA and Agriculture Canada whilst not taking food safety seriously enough by allowing non-food animals to enter the thank_you1food chain. The reality is that commercial pressures will always tend to overwhelm safety concerns, unless there is some mechanism to keep the operator honest – if this is not going to happen within the organization then let whistleblowers lead the charge.  Now if only we could hear from former owners of Hurricane Jeff,  Major Baby, Spill the Ink,  Elite Din Pach,  and Promising Lucia……

“Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,–
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.”

Macbeth

 

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About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic plant-based eater, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

3 responses »

  1. Heather, you were much to polite when refering, to what has to be the most incompitent Agriculture Minister Canada has had in recent times, none other than Gerry Ritz. Worse Mr. Ritz propencity for sheer incompitence has found its way into what MOST if NOT ALL Canadians see as a total disfunctional, corrupt and untruthful Govt. Agency the CFIA. It seems this is the best talent that PM Harper can come up with for his front bench Ministers.

    • Dennis, Ritz is a Minister who cannot handle his file. He’s always caught flat-footed and ill-prepared. We lived through a national listeriosis outbreak, one to which the deregulatory policies of the Conservatives contributed, and Ritz also wasn’t prepared to deal with such matters as the announcement of an investigation into it on a moment’s notice. he’s always too anxious to declare outbreaks as over, problem solved, etc. while making jokes.

  2. Heather, we have a political program called” Power and Politics with Evan Solomon” that is televised monday thru friday, He has had Ritz on two occasions that i have seen. It is a real treat to watch this incompitent respond to questions. He is so far out of his league its actually pathetic, and believe it or not this is what Canadians, and those who are in receipt of our meat exports are relying on for our food safety.

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