USDA Closes Calif. Facility In Recall, Marin Sun Farms To Purchase

Thursday's statement from the USDA is the first comment since Feb. 8, when it announced the recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef sold in the United States and Canada and asserted that Rancho “processed diseased animals” without a full inspection.

Responding to questions from the media for the first time since 8.7 million pounds of beef products were recalled, the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleged for the first time Thursday that Rancho Feeding Corporation may have engaged in “circumvention” of federal inspection rules.

The allegation, denied by a partner in the business, came in a statement responding to repeated questions from the media and food safety experts, asking how so many cattle last year failed to receive a full inspection at Rancho Feeding Corporation's facility. The USDA's official answer suggested a distinction between an accidental breach in slaughterhouse protocol and intentional wrongdoing.

In the statement, the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service said its “inspectors were present at Rancho Feeds during normal operations as required by law. The ongoing investigation is associated with the company's intermittent circumvention of inspection requirements.”

The USDA inspector general is conducting a separate investigation into the plant.

Meanwhile, news has broke that Marin Sun Farms is purchasing the Petaluma slaughterhouse from Rancho Feeding Corp., saying that the deal is in escrow and expected to be complete by the end of the month. Marin Sun Farms, which has headquarters in San Francisco, has submitted an application to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take over the Petaluma operation.

David Evans, founder and chief executive of Marin Sun Farms, said Thursday that he felt compelled to take over the Petaluma facilities out of concern that the slaughterhouse, the only one in the Bay Area, would close and leave local meat producers without a key supplier.

"There are a number of us who produce high-quality meats for the Bay Area marketplace who have used that facility," Evans said. "All of these niche meat businesses are in existence because we have that slaughterhouse. There's great pressure to have that facility in place."

Marin Sun Farms is a popular, long-time producer of grass-fed beef products, although the company has revealed plans to switch to grain feed due in part to drought conditions and a lean supply of grass. Evans said he intends to rehire many of the 15 to 20 employees at the Rancho Feeding facility, which will take the Marin Sun Farms name. He expects the slaughterhouse to be ready to resume operations in about two months.

"We're coming in and cleaning things up and getting things started from scratch," Evans said. "I'm not concerned about what had happened there in the past. We just want to get this back in operation in really good form, putting out really high-quality animals for the Bay Area market."

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