John MunsellIn January of 2002, John Munsell was notified that a sample of ground beef from his company, Montana Quality Foods and Processing, Inc., had tested positive for E. coli. The Miles City meat processor claims that he had told officials that the ground beef came from a larger plant in Colorado, but that his warnings were ignored.
Munsell told the Associated Press that when he complained about being ignored by officials, he was told numerous times to rewrite paperwork “on threat of withdrawal of USDA inspectors”. He subsequently decided to file a lawsuit against the US Department of Agriculture, citing that they unfairly protect large meatpackers and ignore smaller meat processors.
Later that year, 19 million pounds of beef were recalled by ConAgra because of E. coli contamination at its Greeley, Colorado, plant.
Munsell agreed to a voluntary recall of 270 pounds of ground beef that Montana Quality Foods and Processing distributed to stores. Since the recall, the company was inundated with calls from upset and frightened consumers. That, and the negative media coverage has caused Munsell to put his company up for sale.
The American Association of Meat Processors decided two weeks ago to join Munsell’s lawsuit and help cover legal expenses. The AAMP represents about 1,700 smaller meatpackers nationwide.
On March 15, the group wrote in its newsletter, “”AAMP did not enter this case hastily, recognizing that many of its member plants also sell beef products to other plants for further processing. But it has many members who have been unfairly punished by FSIS (the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service) for actions beyond their control.”
“It denies the agency the chance to describe this as the lawsuit of one disgruntled man,” said Munsell to the Associated Press. The AAMP will file to formally join the lawsuit next week.