WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The inquiry into whether Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy illegally accepted free travel, tickets to sporting events and other gifts from chicken king Tyson Foods has consumer food safety activists crying foul.
"He has compromised the integrity of the food safety program," said Rodney Leonard, executive director of the Community Nutrition Institute.
Among the allegations the Justice Department is currently reviewing is whether Espy last year violated the 1907 Meat Inspection Act when he stayed at the Tyson Foods Management Center in Arkansas and flew to Washington on a Tyson company airplane. The law prohibits government officials from accepting any "thing of value" from a company or person regulated by the USDA. Violation of the act carries a mandatory one-year prison term.
"If he received gifts from a company that is as large as Tyson, it might compromise his ability to look on the industry impartially," said Elizabeth Darrow, national organizer for the Pure Food Campaign.
Leonard questioned Espy's commitment to improving poultry and meat inspection and safety, which the secretary has made a centerpiece of his administration.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said the investigation, which became public earlier this month, was continuing.