Sherry Medina is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspector who worked for the agency for 16 years. In 2012, she disclosed information to FIC regarding the serious health problems caused by the overuse of chemicals in the poultry processing industry. By making the courageous decision to blow the whistle on Big Ag, Sherry put worker safety hazards associated with the industry’s overreliance on dangerous chemicals under scrutiny and opened the door to further investigations of risks associated with these substances.
Sherry worked in a Tyson Foods plant in Alabama, where she took her job protecting consumers very seriously. But she became unable to complete her duties when she began to experience debilitating symptoms, less than one month after starting work in this plant. Her health problems included respiratory problems, infections, and skin and eye irritation. Coworkers also became ill.
Over the course of her time working at Tyson, Sherry’s persistent health problems dramatically decreased her quality of life. She eventually developed asthma, suffered organ damage and broke two ribs due to extreme coughing. She pushed the company and USDA to improve plant conditions to no avail. In 2011, she had no choice but to leave on disability and apply for early retirement.
After receiving no help from the plant or USDA, Sherry took matters into her own hands by creating a petition demanding that Tyson protect worker health and safety by stopping its widespread chemical use. She also suggested alternatives to current practices. Her petition gained over 130,000 signatures, and her story has inspired others working in the USDA to come forward and disclose similar complaints to FIC. Moreover, her determination to fight for this cause continues to help others working in the industry who cannot speak out about their concerns due to fear of retaliation.
Sherry is committed to bringing awareness to this issue. Since coming forward, her story has been featured on numerous news outlets (including the Washington Post) and spurred investigations into other problems associated with the overuse of chemicals (such as the masking of food safety data associated with the heavy use of antimicrobial sprays).