This morning’s Billings Gazette had a story about Senator Tester, with the help of a local slaughterhouse owner, taking on the lack of accountability in the nation’s meat testing protocols. Montana’s one of the few states where small slaughterhouses still exist, which is a good thing if you want to buy local meat. I have a friend in Colorado, for example, who has a ranch, but doesn’t raise cattle for her family in large part because they’d have to be sent to a big feedlot operation to be processed. What’s the point in that? How would you even know if you got your own meat back?
From the article:
“If nothing changes, we are virtually guaranteed there will be ongoing outbreaks and recurring recalls as a consequence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s unwillingness to trace contamination back to the source,” said John Munsell, a former Miles City butcher and advocate for reforming food safety laws.
Eight years ago, a USDA inspector found E. coli in beef at Munsell’s family meat processing plant, Montana Quality Foods. Munsell told the USDA the contaminated beef came from the slaughterer ConAgra Beef Co., but under existing food safety laws, the government’s investigation stopped at Munsell’s plant. Federal regulators said they couldn’t positively trace the bacteria back to ConAgra despite records offered by Munsell.
Munsell recalled 270 pounds of hamburger. Months later, ConAgra Beef was caught in an 18 million pound meat recall, one of the nation’s largest.
Munsell has been lobbying for regulatory changes since 2002. He helped write the bill Tester is introducing. Currently, inspectors are not allowed to document the source of the meat they sample on the same day they collect material to test, Munsell said. Once the test results come back, enough time has lapsed that inspectors can’t say for sure where the meat originated.
“Why have they always required policies that intentionally delayed evidence gathering? Who are they trying to protect?” Munsell said. “In five days, the trail of evidence grows cold.”