The following is a statement by Steven F. Spiritas, President and Chief Executive Officer of Supreme Beef Processors, Inc., in response to a media statement by Thomas Billy, Administrator of USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service:
“The Department of Agriculture is pursuing a campaign of distortion, disinformation and intimidation against our company. I think it is outrageous that the Federal Government is manipulating the testing results at our plant, suppressing information critical of its laboratories and using bullying tactics to support a position that a federal court has told it has no legal, logical or scientific basis.
“First, the manipulation of test results that the government is engaging in is outrageous. To concoct this latest attack on our business, the government has chosen to exclude test results that demonstrated compliance with their standard. By ignoring results, which showed us meeting their arbitrary standard, the government claims they found six positives out of 46 samples. But in fact, had they simply included test results obtained earlier this year that were favorable to us, we would have been in compliance with their arbitrary standard.
“Second, USDA is well aware of problems in its testing procedures and appears to be actively suppressing an internal report from its own Office of Inspector General that is critical of its labs. The problems with USDA’s system became obvious to us several months ago. At that time, we asked an independent laboratory to test the samples pulled by USDA’s inspectors and they found us — contrary to the government’s findings — in compliance with the standard. Despite our efforts to review the government lab results, USDA has repeatedly refused to discuss them with us.
“Because of our concerns about the government’s faulty labs, we have had extensive testing done in our facility. Of the 1,109 samples taken in our plant by an independent laboratory, a total of 13 samples — just over one percent — tested positive for Salmonella. That is in stark contrast to USDA’s results and raises serious questions about the validity of their tests.
“This all-out assault by the Federal Government on our small business is astounding. I can’t understand why the government continues to suggest that six alleged positive samples is of concern in a ground beef plant but 29 positive Salmonella samples is okay in ground turkey. Furthermore, USDA knows full well that our processing plant is not the source of the alleged Salmonella positives. Our plant is cleaned and sanitized from top to bottom at the end of every production day. Any positive tests are from meat coming into our plant that has been previously inspected and approved by USDA.
“In addition, USDA is being less than straightforward in repeatedly suggesting that Supreme Beef is the only plant in the country to face this problem. The fact is they don’t know how widespread Salmonella prevalence is because nearly 85 percent of the nation’s ground beef plants have not yet been tested, according to latest report from the government.
“Beyond the extensive independent testing conducted in our plant, we have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars implementing numerous recommendations from industry experts and attempting to address USDA’s concerns. Despite our repeated requests to USDA for feedback or recommendations, the government has responded with nothing but more testing. We fully expect this latest attack on our business to be followed up with even more retaliatory testing by the government.
“Finally, in response to USDA’s statement, I think it would be appropriate to request that the department voluntarily suspend its media grandstanding and focus instead on developing a workable and meaningful program of microbiological testing that makes sense within the new inspection system. We have no intention of closing our facility and fully intend to continue producing safe, wholesome and high quality meats that our customers expect from us. I am today renewing my request to meet with the Secretary of Agriculture to discuss this matter. I hope that Secretary Glickman will see fit to meet with me to work toward a solution.”