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Second investigation launched into Petaluma slaughterhouse (w/video)

  • Cows wait to be butchered at Rancho Feeding Corp. slaughterhouse in Petaluma on Monday, Jan. 13, 2014. (CONNER JAY/Press Democrat)

A second office within the U.S. Department of Agriculture has begun investigating a Petaluma slaughterhouse that temporarily ceased operations this week while recalling a year's worth of processed beef, the agency said Tuesday.

“USDA's Office of the Inspector General is conducting an ongoing investigation into Rancho Feeding Corporation,” the department said in a statement issued Tuesday.

A second probe, conducted by the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service, will include “an immediate and thorough examination of the firm's practices, procedures and management,” the agency said.

The 39-word statement was the most detailed to date from the agency but left many questions unanswered about its investigation into the North Bay's last remaining beef processing facility.

On Saturday the USDA announced that Rancho had initiated a recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef, essentially all meat processed by the company in 2013.

In its news release on the recall, the agency asserted that Rancho “processed diseased and unsound animals” without a full inspection. The meat products are “unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food” and must be removed from commerce.

There are no reports of anyone becoming ill after eating the beef.

The involvement of the inspector general's office suggests a more serious level of inquiry by the USDA, one expert said.

The Office of the Inspector General “doesn't get involved in every case,” said Michael Hansen, a senior scientist who follows the meat processing industry for Consumer's Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports magazine. “That suggests that something else is going on that needs to be looked at.”

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