Food Integrity Campaign and AUWCL Host “Representing Truth in Agriculture” Conference

Nov. 15, 2019

Compassion Over Killing Executive Director Erica Meier
Compassion Over Killing Executive Director Erica Meier presenting her keynote discussion.

On Friday, Nov. 15, American University Washington College of Law welcomed the Government Accountability Project’s Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) for its 10th annual conference, “Representing Truth in Agriculture.”

The day-long event—co-sponsored the Program on Environmental and Energy Law, AUWCL’s Animal Law Society, and the Environmental Law Institute—featured influential panelists and speakers discussing food integrity issues such as environmental impacts and climate change, worker rights, food safety, public health, animal welfare, and whistleblower rights.

AUWCL and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has a long and rich history of association and collaboration said Vice Dean Susan Carle, who along with GAP Executive Director and CEO Louis Clark ’77 and GAP Director of Public Health and FIC creator Amanda Hitt, welcomed attendees. A number of AUWCL faculty, including Carle, serve or have served as board members for the organization.

“Thirty-two years ago, when we launched the representation of whistleblowers, our first clients were in the food safety arena. We represented whistleblowers about food, about sulfates in milk, about the salmonella, about mad cow,” Clark said. “With the vision of Amanda Hitt, we needed to go broader than that. We needed to do more than talk about safety. We needed to also talk about the integrity of the food—to talk about the laborers, the farmers, the plant workers and their injuries.”

The conference featured five unique panel discussions: “Legal Impediments to Fighting Factory Farms,” “Food and Climate Change,” “Underrepresented Truth,” “Growing Resistance,” and “Fast Food.”

Dr. James Keen
Dr. James Keen

Keynote speaker Dr. James Keen, veterinarian and farm animal welfare whistleblower, discussed his industrial livestock production research at the University of Nebraska and the USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center (MARC), which ultimately led him to blow the whistle on animal abuses at the center. Many of the costly and failed research projects conducted dealt with genetic mutations that would produce a larger number of cows or cows with increased muscle growth, he said.

“One of the questions thrown at me after I whistleblew is, why did you wait so long?” Keen said. “I didn’t see anything wrong with the system because I was a part of it. But I had this slow conversion process—for many reasons, and animal welfare is part of it. It took me about eight to 10 years before I saw the world with a different lens.”

Compassion Over Killing Executive Director Erica Meier served as the conference’s second keynote speaker, and said their “shared mission is to disrupt the status quo of a destructive animal agribusiness system that exploits everything and everyone in its path,” citing the exploitation of farm workers, rural communities, the environment, and the planet.

“Agribusiness also exploits consumers, by denying us the truth. They’re not only feeding us lies, they’re often feeding us food that is unsafe,” Meier said. “If we want to be the change that we wish to see, we need to shine a bright light on these hidden truths, and fight for justice on all fronts.”