Respected rancher facing huge loss in beef recall: USDA’s logic ‘preposterous’

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BOLINAS, California (CNN) — Bill Niman’s name has long been synonymous with high-quality, humanely raised beef – featured on menus and store shelves across the country. So it was something of a shock when his beef was caught up in a massive recall earlier this year.

In January, Rancho Feeding Corp. started recalling nearly 9 million pounds of bad meat. Federal officials tell CNN that inspectors believe the Petaluma, California, slaughterhouse was buying cancerous cows and processing them when government inspectors weren’t looking.

But Niman said he only used the plant to slaughter his own BN Ranch cattle, not old, cancerous dairy cows. In fact, he said, either he or his employees were with the cattle during inspections and slaughters, so there’s no way his cattle and the cancerous cows could have been mixed up.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture disagreed, saying it couldn’t guarantee that Niman’s beef wasn’t swapped with or contaminated by the cancerous meat.

Niman calls the USDA’s logic “preposterous,” arguing that the difference between his cattle and the cows Rancho was buying is obvious — “the difference between a motorcycle and an automobile.”

Even Jesse Amaral, one of Rancho’s former owners — the plant has since been sold — said through his lawyer that Niman’s beef was not “tainted, diseased or uninspected” and that “there is no reason” to prevent Niman from selling his beef “because it is wholesome and was fully inspected.”

Still, 100,000 pounds of beef is locked up in freezers, costing Niman about $400,000. To put that in perspective, BN Ranch’s revenue last year was less than $2 million.

“It’s been devastating for our business. It’s been a huge distraction. It’s going to be a huge financial hit. We’re going to have to borrow money or sell part of our company in order to stay alive,” he said.

Standing among 100 or so cattle on his ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Niman was pessimistic about the chances of the USDA reversing its ruling, and he’s struggling to come to grips with having to throw the meat away.

After raising the cattle from birth and accompanying them to the slaughterhouse, Ninan said, the idea of tossing the meat into the dump is “immoral.”

“It’s repugnant,” he said. “It’s incomprehensible to us, really.”

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