In a two-part series, a daily newspaper in Montana documents 12 years of harassment by a vindictive federal supervisory inspector of some of the state’s small meat plants.

In “Feds admit harassing small Butte meat plant, but take no action” and “‘Legg regs’ take their toll on plants throughout Montana,” the Montana Standard newspaper shows how USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is apparently one man’s fiefdom in the faraway “Billings District.”

The investigative reporting by Standard Editor David McCumber may have ramifications beyond the “Billings District” and Montana because it raises the possibility that “quota” systems are if not encouraged or at least tolerated with FSIS.

Noncompliance Records or NRs are violations issued by “inspection program personnel.” In each of the last three quarters, FSIS inspectors have handed out between 25,500 and 27,700 NRs.

The quota suspicion came into play in Montana after 2005 with the appointment of a veterinarian named Dr. Jeffrey Legg to the district. The newspaper cites instances where Legg ordered inspectors to issue NRs for criteria that were not FSIS policy. A small Montana plant with 100 to 150 NRs a year became commonplace.

Writing NRs without foundation came to be known in Montana as “Legg regs.”

Suspicions about quotas aren’t new. Former FSIS Administrator Al Almanza made a kind of denial in 2008.

“I’d say that’s false,” he said. “..We are not going to order or direct any of our inspectors on any number of NRs to be documented on a day, a month, etc.”

After providing evidence of Legg’s harassment to FSIS higher-ups, a Butte meat shop owner learned the agency planned no further action. Other complaints about Legg went without any response at all.

Interestingly, during much of the 12-year period covered by the Montana Standard the small meat plant owners had involvement and support from Montana’s entire congressional delegation and a past governor. Further FSIS declined to provide Legg or anyone else to the Montana Standards for an interview.

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