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Meatpacker aided with lawsuit

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rancher

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MILES CITY - A Miles City meat processor praised a national group's plan to join his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying it will add legitimacy to his complaint the USDA unfairly protects large meatpackers.

"It denies the agency the chance to describe this as the lawsuit of one disgruntled man," said John Munsell, who contends federal officials retaliated after he criticized efforts to protect the nation's beef supply from E. coli contamination.

The American Association of Meat Processors, which Munsell said represents about 1,700 smaller meatpackers nationwide, decided two weeks ago it wanted to join the lawsuit and help contribute to court costs.


A formal filing by the organization is expected next week.

"AAMP did not enter this case hastily, recognizing that many of its member plants also sell beef products to other plants for further processing," the group wrote in its March 15 newsletter. "But it has many members who have been unfairly punished by FSIS (the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) for actions beyond their control."

In January 2002, Munsell was notified that a ground beef sample from his company, Montana Quality Foods and Processing Inc., had tested positive for E. coli contamination.

In the lawsuit filed last fall, Munsell claimed he told officials the contaminated beef had come to his business from a larger plant in Colorado. He contends his warnings were ignored and federal officials declined to trace the source. Later that year, ConAgra recalled about 19 million pounds of beef because of E. coli contamination at the Greeley, Colo., plant.

Munsell maintains that when he complained, he was required numerous times to rewrite a plan detailing potential hazards and controls "on threat of withdrawal of USDA inspectors" and approval of the company's beef products.

In his lawsuit, Munsell said he agreed to a voluntary recall of 270 pounds of ground beef, a move that left his employees dealing with calls from "upset and frightened consumers" as well as "negative media coverage."

Since the recall, he has put his company up for sale.

http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&display=rednews/2005/03/26/build/state/45-meatpacker-suit.inc
 

Bill

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rancher said:
MILES CITY - A Miles City meat processor praised a national group's plan to join his lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying it will add legitimacy to his complaint the USDA unfairly protects large meatpackers.

"It denies the agency the chance to describe this as the lawsuit of one disgruntled man," said John Munsell, who contends federal officials retaliated after he criticized efforts to protect the nation's beef supply from E. coli contamination.

The American Association of Meat Processors, which Munsell said represents about 1,700 smaller meatpackers nationwide, decided two weeks ago it wanted to join the lawsuit and help contribute to court costs.


A formal filing by the organization is expected next week.

"AAMP did not enter this case hastily, recognizing that many of its member plants also sell beef products to other plants for further processing," the group wrote in its March 15 newsletter. "But it has many members who have been unfairly punished by FSIS (the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) for actions beyond their control."

In January 2002, Munsell was notified that a ground beef sample from his company, Montana Quality Foods and Processing Inc., had tested positive for E. coli contamination.

In the lawsuit filed last fall, Munsell claimed he told officials the contaminated beef had come to his business from a larger plant in Colorado. He contends his warnings were ignored and federal officials declined to trace the source. Later that year, ConAgra recalled about 19 million pounds of beef because of E. coli contamination at the Greeley, Colo., plant.

Munsell maintains that when he complained, he was required numerous times to rewrite a plan detailing potential hazards and controls "on threat of withdrawal of USDA inspectors" and approval of the company's beef products.

In his lawsuit, Munsell said he agreed to a voluntary recall of 270 pounds of ground beef, a move that left his employees dealing with calls from "upset and frightened consumers" as well as "negative media coverage."

Since the recall, he has put his company up for sale.

http://www.billingsgazette.com/index.php?id=1&display=rednews/2005/03/26/build/state/45-meatpacker-suit.inc

In his lawsuit, Munsell said he agreed to a voluntary recall of 270 pounds of ground beef, a move that left his employees dealing with calls from "upset and frightened consumers" as well as "negative media coverage."

Sue 'em, and get it into the media, its the new American way. Keep dragging all this stuff out before the US consumer and confidence in beef safety is bound to drop. What will happen when the next big recall could be due to another US case of BSE?
 

PORKER

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TOO BAD he wasn't using www.scoringsystem.com animal and meat traceback system,he would have won the case with out a court FIGHT.
 

Murgen

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Porker, would it have told him and the courts where the E-coli was picked up? I'm sure he already had invoices to show he bought the meat from CO.

That's like saying that if you label live cattle "product of Canada" then if there is an ecoli recall from CO, the Canadians should be blamed!
 

rancher

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Sue 'em, and get it into the media, its the new American way. Keep dragging all this stuff out before the US consumer and confidence in beef safety is bound to drop. What will happen when the next big recall could be due to another US case of BSE?

You have no room to talk until you know the facts. This was a dirty deal from the USDA to this guy. Look it up in the archives since you haven't been here that long.
 

Jason

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rancher said:
You have no room to talk until you know the facts. This was a dirty deal from the USDA to this guy.

Do you know all the facts Rancher? Do you know for a fact the beef was contaminated before he recieved it?

The position that the other plant is inspected as well, and there had been no signs of e-coli at that point, the logical conclusion would be to stop the e-coli from spreading from the only known source.

For the blame to automatically be passed back to the next guy is what ranchers have feared..if e-coli is reported it must have come from the cow-calf guy. How ridiculous!

If Munsell was a really stand up guy he would have recalled the 270 pounds of ground and worked with USDA inspectors to find the ultimate cause. If he was completely innocent, his reputation would have been cleared. If he had some areas to work on and did it, he would still have had a better chance at continuing a successful business.

Kind of makes you take another look at those who claim the processors take all the profit. Oh yes the big packers are afraid of him so set him up. Talk about black helocopters. :roll:
 

rancher

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Do you know all the facts Rancher? Do you know for a fact the beef was contaminated before he recieved it?

Yes, he has all the proof to show it was and all the proof showing he tried to get USDA to do something about it and they didn't. He has the letters from the USDA that they later tried to get back, then the threatening started with pulling inspectors. The USDA inspectors backed up Munsell, then were pulled from the case.
 

rancher

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Jason, if you remember we went over this a year and half ago, I explained it then to you.

January of 2002. When Munsell notified the USDA of the contaminated meat, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) responded by making him re-write his Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan 14 times and suspending his right to grind his own beef products for four months. While Munsell felt the USDA’s wrath, the agency took no action against ConAgra until a second round of contaminated meat was found at Galligans, a Colorado plant, in June of 2002; that shipment resulted in a recall of 19 million pounds of ConAgra beef. ConAgra later sold off a large portion of its beef and pork production division.

“On three consecutive days, the samples taken by the USDA inspector at our plant were positive [for E. coli]. The inspector saw that we started with a clean grinder…he observed us bring out boxes of ConAgra coarse ground beef, we opened them up, put the meat into our grinder and he sampled it…so the inspector, Ron Irvine, and his boss…hand wrote a letter in which they said that the USDA should commence an investigation into ConAgra. People in Washington, D.C. rejected their letter,” Munsell says. “They said that those two people were not authorized to make that statement. So, in other words, they were not authorized to tell the truth. They called that letter ‘personal opinion.’ And the Minneapolis [USDA] district office kept telling me, ‘John, it’d be best if you never referred to that letter again.’”

Munsell points to his conversation with Billings USDA circuit supervisor Dr. Grady Skaggs, in which Munsell recalls Skaggs saying that an inspector wanted to accept Munsell’s ConAgra samples, but “the Minneapolis district office told him not to because they were afraid that ConAgra would sue the USDA.

“He said that in front of four of us, and he does not deny making that statement, either.”

Skaggs could not verify or deny the statement Munsell attributed to him, as he was not given clearance to speak with the Independent by the USDA’s public affairs office.

Reminded by a reporter that he has a First Amendment right to speak if he so chooses, Skaggs said, “That may be the case, but they’ve also got the right to tell me not to, which they do. They tell us that we have to have clearance before we speak to a reporter.”

Such lack of access to government employees is not shocking to Felicia Nestor, food safety director with the Government Accountability Project (GAP).

“USDA definitely does not want reporters talking to front-line people,” she said. “USDA continues to send memos out to the field telling them, ‘You do have a First Amendment right to speak as a citizen,’ but then they go on to give instructions that if any reporter calls, they should call up the public affairs office. So they mislead them into thinking that they’re not allowed to talk to you.”

Munsell says that even after three consecutive positive E.coli tests on ConAgra-shipped beef, the USDA didn’t call him back. At that point, he sent an e-mail to the district office manager in Minneapolis. “I wrote, ‘Dr. Clark, if you and I, realizing all the details now, cover this up and do nothing about it and somebody gets sick as a result, then you and I need to share a cell in Alcatraz.’ That made him so angry.”

That FSIS was unwilling to accept Munsell’s ConAgra beef samples at the owner’s request prior to the recall raises questions about whom exactly the USDA is working to protect—beef consumers, or beef corporations such as ConAgra.

A leaked USDA memo to its Kansas meat inspectors may help answer that question. The memo informs inspectors that “stopping production for ‘possible’ cross contamination is unjustifiable unless you can verify that there is direct product contamination. Verification is OBSERVATION of gross contaminate not SUSPECTED contaminate. This is the only criteria for justifying halting production.” The memo continues, “You may be accountable for the time the company has lost production if that lost production is not verifiable and the action not justifiable.”

Nestor says that Munsell’s case and the Kansas memo show that the USDA directs inspectors to place business interests ahead of food-safety concerns.

“In these large packing plants, inspectors have about 20 seconds to look at the carcass to make sure that it doesn’t have fecal matter on it. Twenty seconds is no time at all, and they have to make a judgement call in a split second,” says Nestor. “What USDA was telling them was, ‘If, in those judgement calls, you err on the side of food safety, we will not defend you if the company sues you,’ and companies often threaten to sue inspectors.”

It is difficult to know exactly how such a memo affects inspection policies, however, since the USDA does not readily provide inspection data.
 

HAY MAKER

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JASON,why dont you get your lazy ass into the archives if you are that interested?You are a typical packer clone let some body else do your work..............good luck
 

PORKER

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Porker, would it have told him and the courts where the E-coli was picked up? I'm sure he already had invoices to show he bought the meat from CO.
DARN RIGHT,They have this date and time stamp from station to station even for a carcass being aged and broke down in a packing house which is called the chain of custody.They traceback to each source or station within seconds.Go to www.scoringsystem.com/agri/ and find out.
 

Bill

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rancher said:
Sue 'em, and get it into the media, its the new American way. Keep dragging all this stuff out before the US consumer and confidence in beef safety is bound to drop. What will happen when the next big recall could be due to another US case of BSE?

You have no room to talk until you know the facts. This was a dirty deal from the USDA to this guy. Look it up in the archives since you haven't been here that long.

You missed my point by a mile. I am not talking about this case in particular but the overall determination of some people to run to the courts, dragging our livliehoods along with them for the media and fringe consumer groups to potentially have a field day with.

It's surprising any one wants to eat beef in the US.
 

rancher

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Well when the government won't listen to you, what do you do? It is either his lively hood or yours. What makes ours any more important than his? If the USDA did the job they were suppose to there would be no law suit and no media. Some people just get tired of government BS. :mad:
 

Bull Burger

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HAY MAKER said:
JASON,why dont you get your lazy ass into the archives if you are that interested?You are a typical packer clone let some body else do your work..............good luck

HAY MAKER, if you yourself would go back in the archives, you would notice Jason's postings from several years back. By the way, have you learned what captive supplies are yet?
 

Jason

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What gets me about the Munsell case in particular is why did he continue to take beef from Con agra if he knew it to be the source of his own problems?

I would think if he did get a raw deal from the USDA (and from his side of the story he did) why not go to plan B? Request the ground beef he was picking up from Con agra to be tested negative for e-coli before he accepted shipment.

This sounds to me like he had a history with USDA and they used this opportunity to get rid of a pain. Or else the story has more to it than he has presented.

Remember I don't know the man, and there is really nothing for me to gain either way. If I was asked to sit on a jury and decide if he was innocent or guilty, I would have to say I need way more information.
 

rancher

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You are right Jason, you don't know the man or his story, so better to keep mouth shut than open and insert foot.
 

Jason

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I just read all the info about him you posted. I still think there is something else going on. To believe the big bad USDA is just out to protect huge corporations is more of a foolish idea.

I guess if I can't offer an opinion about this guy maybe R-calf shouldn't be offering opinions about things which they don't know all the facts either. But then maybe that wouldn't fit with a conspiracy agenda.
 

Mike

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http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d02902.pdf

Interesting report by the GAO concerning food safety and the USDA.

Here's more about the Munsell vs. Conagra deal Jason for more perspective:

http://www.citizen.org/cmep/foodsafety/meat/articles.cfm?ID=8062
 

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