Montana Standard: Daines, Tester, Gianforte all demand investigation of meat-inspection agency in Montana

A deputy assistant administrator for the Food Safety and Inspection Service told Bart Riley in a letter more than two years after he filed an official complaint: “Regarding willful harassment … five allegations were substantiated.”
Walter Hinick, The Montana Standard

by DAVID McCUMBER | Sep 27, 2017

In strongly worded letters to the Secretary of Agriculture and to the acting head of the Food Safety and Inspection Service, all members of Montana’s congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte — are calling for investigations into the FSIS and its treatment of Butte’s Riley Meats and other small Montana meat processing plants.

The letters follow a two-day series, “Through the Meat Grinder,” in The Montana Standard and other Lee Montana newspapers last week detailing a pattern of nonexistent regulations being applied to Riley’s Meats and several other Montana plants. In some cases, the federal actions resulted in businesses closing or canceling expansion plans.

In his letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sent Monday, Tester said, “In some of the most egregious examples coming from Montana small businesses, FSIS inspectors are attempting to enforce rules that do not exist. This is completely unacceptable. USDA must immediately address these reports with a formal and transparent investigation.”

He continued, “I raised this issue several times with the previous Administration. However it appears that USDA is continuing to fall short on its oversight of federal inspectors. I stand ready to work with you to assist on an investigation and restore confidence to Montana’s small business that FSIS is a reputable agency.”

In Gianforte’s letter sent Tuesday to Carmen Rottenberg, acting deputy undersecretary for food and safety, he said, “I contact you today about the egregious conduct of Food Safety and Inspection Service front-line supervisor Jeffrey Legg.

“My constituents have described a series of wanton abuses from this out-of-control bureaucrat. These family businesses have filed numerous complaints with FSIS after Dr. Legg imposed on them outrageous compliance costs for regulations that do not exist. When confronted about his enforcement of self-created regulations, Legg retaliated against them.”

“Legg’s superiors acknowledged that his actions were out of line on several occasions, and yet he retained his position,” Gianforte wrote. “I call on you to investigate these practices within your department. It is unacceptable for federal bureaucrats to target family businesses … I will continue to focus on the issue until it is resolved.”

In Daines’ letter, also sent to Rottenberg Tuesday, he wrote, “I request that you fully investigate and review the performance and conduct of Mr. Legg in a timely manner and take appropriate action.”

Daines added, “Any regulations need to be based on sound science and food safety, not unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. This, unfortunately, has not been the case for several Montana small businesses inspected by Dr. Legg.”

Daines closed by urging that “any inspections conducted by agencies under your purview are done in a transparent manner and are consistent with existing regulations.”

Gianforte has scheduled a meeting Friday at Riley Meats in Butte with the owner, Bart Riley, and others, including John Truzzolino, proprietor of Butte’s Truzzolino Tamales, who was also targeted by Legg and filed official complaints to no avail.