Montana’s congressional delegation wants USDA’s Inspector General (IG) to investigate “alleged misconduct within the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and its effect on meat processing facilities in Montana.”
In signing the letter to the IG, Senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines and Representative Greg Gianforte are asking for an investigation into allegations that began before any of them held federal office.
In September, the Montana Standard newspaper published a two-part series showing how the state’s small meat plants had come under vindictive harassment by a supervising FSIS inspector, veterinarian Jeffrey Legg.
One incident reported in that series was a 2006 complaint filed with FSIS by Bart Riley of Riley’s Meats in Butte, MT. The congressional delegation, one Democrat and two Republicans, told the IG how unsatisfied they are with the response.
FSIS admitted some of Riley’s allegations were substantiated. “However,” they wrote, ” FSIS did not publicly enumerate which allegations those were and what, if anything, was done to mitigate or correct the situation. Our offices pressed FSIS for additional information on this report as well as other documents pertaining to their internal review of the situation and were repeatedly told that information could not be shared publicly.”
Montana’s two senators and its only congressman say they met recently with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue about FSIS inspections in their state. “We are pleased that USDA performed an additional review, but we are frustrated by the internal nature of the review and the lack of documentation provided in a transparent manner,” the trio wrote.
In asking for the IG to step in, they said: “We believe the long-running nature of this situation calls for an independent review that can be provided to the public, a task your office is best suited to perform.”
The Montana Standard series depicted how FSIS has allowed its remote “Billings District” to be a one-man fiefdom where made up Noncompliance Reports or NRs are known among meat plant managers as “Legg regs.”
The small business owners, affected Montana communities, local and state governments are all waiting for answers out of FSIS, according to the congressional delegation. And the Trump, Obama, and Bush administrations have all “failed to come up with a clear, satisfactory answer on the outcomes of investigations..” Nor have has there been any “official agency response to the alleged misconduct.”
John Munsell, who advocates for small plants through the Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE), says an IG investigation would be the first outside FSIS to ever look at what has gone on in Montana. Munsell ran an FSIS-inspected meat plant in Miles City, MT for 34 years, and sold the family-owned business in 2005 after 59 years.