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Whistleblower footage shows filthy conditions at Galilee poultry plant

  • February 02, 2021

Filthy conditions were revealed Monday at one of the country’s main chicken processing plants in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona.

An investigation by Channel 20 TV used whisteblower footage from a month ago showing piles of carcasses, many of them on the floor, of an Off HaGalil (Galilee Chicken) plant. Other footage showed an inspector sitting idly rather than checking production.

Off Hagalil defended its practices and said the footage misrepresented the inspection and supervision process.

The whistleblower, a veterinarian from an Agriculture Ministry unit who was dispatched to the plant as part of training to become an inspector, has since been fired.

Five years ago, the not-for-profit rights group Animals Now exposed video testimony of workers at the same factory picking chicken carcasses off a dirty floor and returning them to the line.

“Nothing has changed,” Monday’s broadcast charged. The factory “continues to endanger the health of poultry consumers.”

The whistleblower told the program that he had seen 15 to 20 dirty carcasses being picked up from the floor and thrown back among 500 clean chickens on the line. Giblets and excrement would drip onto the production belts and some employees would work without gloves, against regulations, he said.

At Off HaGalil, carcasses that would have been rejected elsewhere would be washed under the tap — which, according to regulations, just spreads the contamination, he charged.

He accused the meatpacker of skirting health regulations to increase profit margins.

The whistleblower, whose name was not published and whose face was blurred, said that veteran employees at the factory told him that if he wanted to work there he had to understand that “not everything operated at 100 percent.”

He actually worked for Veterinary Services and Animal Health, a largely independent unit within the Agriculture Ministry, which subsequently fired him. In a letter, the unit explained that the whistleblower vet had “not sufficiently proven the professional and behavioral skills needed for the job” with “the emphasis on unsuitable behavior.”

He was “busy photographing inside the plant instead of focusing on the work plan he had been given,” the letter charged, and “his behavior made him unsuitable as a veterinary inspector in general.”

A response from the Agriculture Ministry, read out on the program, said that the vet had just started working and was in training, and that the other vets training him were dissatisfied with his work. After the district vet was also convinced that his behavior was problematic and unsuited to the high standards of inspection expected, it was decided to stop his trial period and fire him.

It was unclear if the whistleblower had tried to take the footage to the ministry before going to the media.

Asked about the conditions seen in the plant, the Veterinary Services and Animal Health unit told the Times of Israel that “the defects found were treated at the time of their discovery or thereafter.” The inspectors certified by the Agriculture Ministry would continue to work professionally and to maintain public health, the statement said.

Tel Aviv veterinarian Yuval Samuel told the program after seeing the footage that he was not surprised.

“We are aware of this in industrialized plants, where the desire is to maximize profits. At the end of the day, it’s the public that’s harmed, it’s we who are harmed, when we eat contaminated food.” He urged the Agriculture and Health ministries to step up efforts to protect public health.

Off Hagalil responded to the story, saying that the plant employed 600 people and worked according to the strict regulations required.

It asserted that poultry underwent a string of cleaning and treatment processes both by machine and by hand, and was inspected and monitored along the way. “A product that has not been through the process of inspection and supervision as required is not packaged for delivery,” the statement said.

It claimed that the whistleblower’s visual testimony “does not represent all the stages of the inspection and supervision process which the product goes through until it is packaged.”

It added that the factory was examining the footage and would consider legal action, including a charge of slander “against the slanderer.”

Roee Shpernik, who chairs the animal rights organization Glass Walls, told Channel 20 that given the volume of poultry being slaughtered and packaged, health and safety issues were inevitable.

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