Nimans denied sale of recall meat

03/27/2014

The United States Department of Agriculture’s food safety inspectors issued a final ruling last week condemning recalled meat from BN Ranch and other custom producers who slaughtered their cattle at Rancho Feeding and had their meat swept up in a blanket 8.7 million-pound recall last month. To clarify whether the meat “can be salvaged for human food,” Daniel Engeljohn, an assistant administrator overseeing field operations for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, met with roughly 20 ranchers and representatives for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Jared Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson. Led by the Nimans, who have at least $300,000 pounds worth of beef in deep freeze, producers argued their meat was kept distinct from the culled dairy cows that Rancho allegedly killed at night to hide eye cancer. The custom slaughter was done on a different day, ranchers maintain, and the meat was kept in an enclosed area. But after listening to concerns, Dr. Engeljohn still denied the appeal. “In light of the practices alleged to have been employed by the establishment’s management, F.S.I.S. cannot apply the mark of inspection to any of the product,” he wrote in a letter. “Even though the investigation is on-going, F.S.I.S. is confident that it cannot ensure that your product was not substituted or cross-contaminated.” The Nimans are considering legal action. “We were really trying to avoid this avenue, but it’s the only thing left to us now,” said Nicolette Hahn Niman, a lawyer and author. The U.S.D.A. made clear that they would not reimburse producers for recalled meat, saying that responsibility lies with “the recalling establishment.” Ranchers could file a lawsuit against the U.S.D.A. if they could prove the agency was “negligent in its handling of this recall action,” Dr. Engeljohn said, but he was confident they “took the appropriate steps.” Jeffrey Bornstein, a lawyer for Rancho’s owner Jesse “Babe” Amaral, said he could not comment on whether the Nimans would be compensated. “Our business is in jeopardy,” Ms. Hahn Niman said. “This has put us significantly in the red. There’s definitely a possibility that the business will not be able to continue to function.” Even if the company can continue, they face significant setbacks, Ms. Hahn Niman added, noting they have already been forced to reduce the number of employees. As local ranchers sort through their meat and balance books, the U.S.D.A. delivered at least some good news: the Petaluma slaughterhouse has permission to reopen on April 7, under the new ownership of David Evans, the founder and CEO of Marin Sun Farms. Painters have already begun refreshing the exterior with a new coat of white paint.