Standard view: Inspection agency’s arrogance is stunning


Standard view: Inspection agency’s arrogance is stunning

Sep 29, 2019

The tiny thumbnail photograph is in the back of The Beacon, the official monthly publication of the Food Safety and Inspection Service. It’s a photo of Dr. Jeffrey Legg, the Front Line Supervisor for Montana meat-plant inspectors.

He’s getting an award.

According to The Beacon, the plaque Legg is holding recognizes his “continued outstanding leadership in a geographically large circuit and remarkable efforts to build a regulatory team to better protect public health.”

The award was presented by Carmen Rottenberg, Food Safety and Inspection Service Administrator.

This award would seem to be a.) an inside joke. b.) an upraised middle finger to the Montana Congressional delegation and c.) a celebration of the fact that apparently the Food Safety & Inspection Service does not care about the plants it regulates and does not believe the Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture has the power to lay a glove on the agency.

Legg was the subject of “Through the Meat Grinder,” a series of stories in this newspaper which, with the help of small-plant owners tired of being harassed, documented the fact that Legg routinely tried to enforce “regulations” of his own fabrication that appear nowhere in any federal rulebook.

The Montana Standard obtained documents showing that the agency itself, investigating Butte meat-plant owner Bart Riley’s complaints against Legg, admitted in writing that five instances of Riley being “willfully harassed” by Legg were substantiated, as well as one instance of “willful and intentional acts to intimidate or otherwise coerce or torment” Riley. But no action was taken in response to the findings.

Last we heard, at the request of all three members of Montana’s Congressional delegation, the Inspector General’s Office had launched an investigation of the matter.

That was more than a year ago.

The delegation has received no response to its request; it is presumed that is because the investigation is ongoing.

For FSIS to present Legg with an award, under these circumstances, is a clear statement of defiance.

Aside from the laughably, demonstrably false praise for Legg’s “remarkable efforts to build a regulatory team” (when many inspectors have requested transfers or retired rather than work for him), the very act of official praise is a reprehensible repudiation of any pretense of good government or responsiveness to the concerns of those being governed.

We are outraged; we hope Senator Steve Daines, Senator Jon Tester and Rep. Greg Gianforte are too. And we hope that the Inspector General’s office, if it is indeed still investigating this matter, takes note.

What unbelievable gall.