Rancho Feeding Recall: Why Sick Dairy Cows Might Be to Blame

Categories: Featured, Recalls

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A BN Ranch publicity photo.
Bill Niman slaughters his cows in the summer, then freezes the meat for distribution throughout the year. Right now he's sitting on a pile of recalled beef, most of which has already been sold, although it remains in BN Ranch freezers.

"What would really be bad, and I don't know if I can recover from this, is if we have to take 100,000 pounds or more of meat, this wholesome, wonderful meat, and take it so some sanitary landfill and dump it," Niman says. "That is a travesty to me. And that's what I think is going to have to happen."

Niman says that after seven years in business, the ranch has yet to turn a profit. "We're just about to be there," he says. "Taking this kind of hit -- I doubt that our company can sustain a $300,000-$500,000 loss."

He's not sure Rancho Feeding Corp. can weather the storm, either. If the facility were to close down, Bay Area farmers would have to drive their animals hundreds of miles for processing. Transport increases costs and stress on cattle, two significant threats to a sustainable agricultural model.

In New York, Jake Dickson says growing demand for sustainably raised meat will require more slaughterhouses that can accommodate small farmers who demand personal oversight. "Slaughterhouses need to rise to meet the demand," Dickson says. "That was the bottleneck of the last five years. In the northeast, it's been eased a little bit -- there's, like, double the slaughterhouses open now than when I opened five years ago, but there are still not that many, and most of them are already booked. We need to figure out a way to scale the system without becoming too industrial. I think there's a sweet spot."

Part of the problem, and a larger issue with the industry, according to Dixon, is that people don't want slaughterhouses in their areas. "Even in agricultural areas," he says, "people are like, 'Not in my backyard,' and they put up a lot of roadblocks."

Jeff Renfro, whose wife runs a yoga studio next door to the slaughterhouse in Petaluma, says Rancho has been the site of frequent protests by animal-rights activists and that many residents view it as an eyesore: "There's a few people in town who won't walk into our studio because we're next to a slaughterhouse," he says.

From where he stands, the plant has been a fine neighbor, Renfro says, though he adds, "They don't like outside people in there, because it's a whole other world when you go into a slaughterhouse. It's not a fun place to be."

For an updated list of outlets affected by the recall, visit the USDA's food-safety news site.

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