John Munsell was born into the meat business. His father ran a small meat packing plant in Montana. He graduated from college in 1968 and worked outside the business before returning in 1971 to take over Montana Quality Foods & Processing.
He ran it without incident until January 2002, when he conducted a recall of 270 pounds of ground beef, potentially contaminated with E. coli O157:H7. A recall of just a few pounds isn’t a major problem, even for a small business, but this one quickly escalated into one of the most infamously misguided cases of HACCP-driven government over-reach into the food business. Three additional adverse lab reports, all of which were from ground beef from meat John had purchased from an outside supplier, put Montana Quality Foods on the ropes. Despite evidence that the source of the contaminant was from an outside supplier, the USDA took harsh enforcement actions against John's plant.
USDA’s removal of inspection prevented John's plant from producing several thousand tons of ground beef for the next four months. An angry Munsell, who had been telling the USDA they were hanging an innocent man, went public to explain the agency's misdirected activities. NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw carried his story on August 1, 2002.
The Government Accountability Project (GAP), a public interest law firm in Washington, DC, brought suit against the USDA on Munsell's behalf. It went nowhere but the result, as reported on Munsell’s web site (http://johnmunsell.com), was dozens of people contacted him “to provide additional evidence of USDA abdicating its congressional mandate to protect and promote public health imperatives.”
Munsell sold his plant in 2005 and created the Foundation for Accountability in Regulatory Enforcement (FARE). He set two goals for the Foundation: “(1) protect the rights of legitimate small plant owners in their dealings with USDA, and (2) funnel suggestions for common sense changes in meat inspection policies to USDA.”
John has become a regular contributor to various media and blogs, focusing on systemic problems within USDA's current style of meat non-inspection, called HACCP. His advocacy is small meat plants, promoting a viable rural America, and protecting public health and food safety.
A few days ago, he copied me on an email note he sent to a friend who was concerned about the USDA’s apparent double standard when it came to E. coli and Salmonella. I suddenly realized that Salmonella was getting what amounts to a federally approved free pass when it comes to food safety issues. I contacted Munsell and asked him to clarify his note.