Largest Meat Trade Organization Files Suit as Co-Plaintiffs with John Munsell 

(Washington, DC) – Government Accountability Project (GAP) client and small meat-processing plant owner John Munsell, currently in the midst of a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), just made a strong alliance. The American Association of Meat Processors (AAMP), the largest meat trade organization in North America, filed a motion asking to join Munsell’s lawsuit as co-plaintiffs earlier today. GAP lawyers, who have agreed to represent AAMP in the litigation, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Ramifications stemming from the lawsuit may include a complete overhaul of current inadequate safety standards and procedures involving beef processing.

Munsell, the owner of Montana Quality Foods (MQF), a small beef processing plant, first ran into trouble with the USDA in January 2002. USDA inspectors found that beef delivered to MQF tested positive on several occasions for E. coli, a potentially fatal pathogen that is especially dangerous to children and the elderly. The contaminated meat, delivered by ConAgra, a large-scale beef supplier, had already been stamped with USDA official approval. AAMP will join in the allegations of the complaint that Munsell, upon raising concerns to USDA managers when no follow-up actions were taken over the contaminated meat, was punished and prohibited from essential processing functions while the larger supplier was ignored. Munsell’s concerns spread and were seconded by USDA field agents. Later that year, Munsell’s concerns led to one of the largest meat recalls in USDA’s history, with some 19 million pounds of ConAgra beef recalled.

Munsell retained GAP’s services in late 2002. His suit involves allegations of retaliation for his whistleblowing, including USDA’s prohibition of MQF from grinding its own meat – an eye-raising action considering MQF’s long-documented clean food testing record.

“I am overjoyed to receive support from such a reputable national organization like the AAMP,” Munsell stated. “People need to know that a real public health threat exists and the USDA must change its flawed policies. It is inconceivable to me that the USDA prohibits documenting the origin of meat it tests for contamination, preventing officials from pinpointing the source of the problem. The USDA’s focus should be on protecting public health instead of large meat packers. We are pursuing this case because saving people from contaminated beef is the right thing to do.”

AAMP has over 1,700 small business memberships throughout North America and predominantly represents small, family-owned meat processors. Eighty-five percent of AAMP business members employ a staff of less than 25.

“AAMP has entered the suit because it believes that the Food Safety & Inspection Service has either deliberately or through negligence placed the blame on small firms that receive product adulterated with E. coli,” stated Steve Krut, AAMP Executive Director. “Too many family meat processors have been forced to close down or cease grinding operations because the USDA neglected its responsibilities at the shipping plant level.”

According to the USDA, American beef production is a $78 billion industry with over 25 billion lbs. produced annually. GAP’s Food and Drug Safety program is committed to ending threats to public safety caused by unsafe inspection systems.