Right and Wronged

The taste of victory is bittersweet for a local meatpacker who challenged the USDA

"The results of the lawsuit mean they don't have a choice of sticking with what they had created at first. They had to do some revisions, and there's been a change; there's new people there who are more interested in looking at the science, and that, I think, goes a long way."

Besides losing his company, Spiritas says his court fight has repeatedly been distorted by the national media. National reports in the print and broadcast media have made it appear that Supreme Beef was uncooperative and in favor of weakened safety standards. Spiritas says he's done all he can to get his side of the story publicized.

"I don't know why the media has not shown interest. We have responded to The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune that we would be happy to visit with them on our nickel, that I would come up there and sit down," he says. "They never responded."

Russell says his organization, too, has had little success getting the industry's case into print, particularly in relation to the federal government's ability to close down dirty meat plants, something not affected by Supreme Beef rulings.

"The media, they don't really seem to understand what's going on. They don't understand the lawsuit. Often they claim that it means there is no more salmonella enforcement ever, which, of course, is not what the lawsuit says at all, not what the judge's decision was," Russell says. "They are very much captured by the rhetoric of consumer activists, and that rhetoric has been extreme and unrealistic--hyperbole rather than analysis."

Spiritas says he's probably out of the meat business for good and is pursuing real estate development. He might not be done battling the federal government, though, he says.

"The Chapter 7 trustee is exploring the possibility of suing," he says.

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