On March 25, 2010, Senator Jon Tester introduced the Meat Safety and Accountability Act or Traceback Act. The bill can largely be attributed to years of advocacy by former GAP client and whistleblower, John Munsell, who has steadfastly demanded that mega-slaughterhouses be held accountable for distributing tainted products to downstream grinders, retailers, and processors.
The Traceback Act requires the USDA to “trace back” harmful foodborne pathogens, namely E.coli and Salmonella, to the slaughterhouse of origin. Current USDA testing detects most of the positives at destination facilities (retail stores, restaurants, cafeterias, etc.); however, the vast majority of the contamination actually occurs upstream at the slaughterhouses as a result of fecal contamination associated with the slaughter process.
Munsell, a small grinder and owner of the family business Montana Quality Foods, Inc., sought GAP’s assistance in 2002 when the USDA failed to act on evidence that ConAgra foods was shipping beef to his facility that was contaminated with E. coli. Regrettably, not only did the USDA fail to regulate ConAgra, the Agency actually blamed Munsell for accepting the beef, had him re-write his HACCP plan 14 times, and suspended his meat grinding privileges. Instead of following up on Munsell’s evidence of wrong-doing by an industry giant, the USDA responded by harassing Munsell’s small meat packing company out of business.
GAP authored a report in 2002 based on Munsell’s experiences.
Munsell is one step closer to protecting both the public’s health and small business from the grips of industry giants. With any luck, Tester’s bill will take on the mega-slaughter plants that have had a stranglehold on the industry. The Meat Safety and Accountability Act is proof that the tenacity of one whistleblower can upset the balance of power between small business and the powerful meat lobby. GAP continues its support of Munsell and looks forward to the passage of the Traceback Act.
Amanda Hitt is Director of the Food Integrity Campaign.