Well the votes are in and tallied and Whistleblower Insider’s 2015 Whistleblower of the Year winner is Perdue chicken farmer Craig Watts. He is one of the 30,000 contract farmers in the U.S. who work with the handful of Big-Ag poultry producers, like Perdue Farms, that control what goes into the vast majority of chickens we eat. They also dictate how these chickens are treated. And after more than twenty years in the business, working on the farm his family has owned since the 1700s, Watts decided he no longer could be silent in the face of what he saw as Perdue’s gross mistreatment of his feathery charges.
So in December 2014, he invited animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming to come to his farm and document first-hand the sordid conditions in which the 700,000 Perdue chickens he raises each year exist. After spending months with Watts, Compassion in World Farming released a video exposing the horrid life of a Perdue chicken. As Nicholas Kristof described in a New York Times OpEd piece he wrote last year, the most shocking revelation was “that the bellies of nearly all the chickens have lost their feathers and are raw, angry, red flesh . . . a huge, continuous bedsore.” This apparently stems from the tightly cramped quarters in which the chickens are housed with little room to move, let alone run around or roost as chickens are supposed to do. A very far cry from the “humanely raised” and “cage-free” narrative the company has bandied about to describe its birds. After the video went viral, with more than two-million views, Perdue was forced to account for its alleged animal abuse and hypocrisy.
As a result of Watts’ efforts to shine a light on an industry that usually operates behind closed doors, Perdue finally may be changing its tune. In a New York Time piece a few months ago reporting on Perdue’s decision to cut antibiotics use in its chickens, Jim Perdue admits “[w]e need happier birds.” Some see the statement as an admission by Perdue that it needs to treat its chickens more humanely and a glimmer of hope that Perdue will finally take action. As reported in Food Safety News, “Perdue has perhaps begun an important and much-needed journey” in addressing the animal welfare issues that plague the industry. A journey powerfully paved by the courageous efforts of our 2015 Whistleblower of the Year Craig Watts.
As deserving as Mr. Watts is for this year’s Whistleblower of the Year recognition, he was up against some very stiff whistleblower competition, including:
- Aicha Elbasri, the former spokesperson for the United Nations Mission in Darfur who took a strong public stand against what she describes as the “conspiracy of silence” regarding the atrocities in Sudan.
- Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov, the Russian sports insiders who exposed one of the biggest international doping scandals in sports history.
- Walter Tamosaitis, the former manager at the Hanford nuclear site who exposed serious health and safety concerns at the country’s largest environmental cleanup site.
- The VA Whistleblowers comprised of the many VA healthcare providers who have come forward to identify the horrendous treatment of our veterans at the hospitals that are supposed to take care of them.
- Bennet Omalu, the NFL concussion whistleblower who exposed the link between repeated head trauma suffered by football players and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Each of these courageous souls got their fair share of the votes for their amazing efforts to expose the particular wrongs to which they bore witness. Learn more about each of them here. There also were several write-in candidates who some of our readers thought worthy of the prize. These included HSBC whistleblower Nicholas Wilson, CDC whistleblower Dr. William Thompson, and Endo Pharmaceutical whistleblower Peggy Ryan. Late-night comedian John Oliver was also nominated, though not without some questions raised as to whether he can be considered a true whistleblower. Click here for more.
Despite their amazing stories and heroic feats, none of these other candidates could top Mr. Watts in the view of our readers. So hats off to Craig Watts for his recognition as Whistleblower Insider’s 2015 Whistleblower of the Year. And may he — along with all the other whistleblowers who have taken a stand against those behaving badly — serve as a powerful reminder of the critical role played by, and the great thanks and respect we owe, the mighty whistleblower. Read Part I and Part II of Whistleblower Insider’s interview with Craig Watts.
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