Post by Brie Mazurek, CUESA (3/7/2014)
On February 8, Rancho Feed Corporation issued a recall on more than 8.7 million pounds of meat that had been processed in its facility over the last year. No illnesses have been reported, but the Petaluma-based slaughterhouse allegedly defied the law and circumvented USDA inspections, slaughtering and selling meat from diseased cows.
Sustainable ranchers like David Evans of Marin Sun Farms, who have made their livelihoods out of raising healthy, pasture-raised animals under humane conditions, were not spared in the blanket recall, even though their meat did not commingle with the diseased animals in question. Marin Sun Farms had to pull more than $100,000 worth of product from the market, which remains unsaleable while the recall is under federal criminal investigation. “There are conversations taking place about potentially revising the recall, but it’s in the hands of the USDA,” David says.
Bill and Nicolette Hahn Niman of BN Ranch are appealing the recall while 100,000 pounds of their frozen grass-fed beef sits in limbo. The Nimans point out the difference between their carefully handled beef and the diseased commodity meats that Rancho was also processing. Noting the devastation of having to destroy this meat, Nicolette has spoken out in favor of increased transparency and traceability in slaughterhouses.
“We want to emphasize the distinction between these two separate channels of trade that Rancho was engaged in,” she says, “and that the meat that people have been buying through their CSA, farmers market, and directly from their farms like us is as safe and wholesome as they thought it was.”
Squeezing Small Ranchers Out
Meanwhile, the facility has closed its doors, creating a huge gap in the local food system. As the only beef slaughterhouse in the Bay Area, it was a critical resource for local meat producers. The case has brought to light the importance not only of food safety and transparency, but also the availability and accessibility of federally inspected slaughterhouses for small-scale and sustainable ranchers. Without the seal of USDA inspection, ranchers cannot bring their meat to market.