Marin Sun Farms has obtained federal approval to take over the Rancho Feeding Corp. slaughterhouse in Petaluma and plans to reopen the shuttered facility early next month.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Wednesday that it has certified Marin Sun to operate the Petaluma plant, which closed Feb. 9 amid an international recall of all beef processed at Rancho in 2013.
The news, which was met with strong approval by local ranchers and farm officials, will allow the North Bay's sole slaughterhouse to reopen under new ownership while federal investigators continue to examine allegations that Rancho processed "diseased and unsound animals."
"I want to get this facility back to full operations so that consumers can enjoy a growing number of options from local producers in the marketplace," Marin Sun founder and CEO David Evans said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Marin Sun will reopen the plant on April 7, the company announced on its Facebook page. Company officials will hold a news conference Friday at the Petaluma Boulevard North facility to discuss more details.
By taking over the plant, Marin Sun intends to offer a range of services to local ranchers, including slaughter, cut-and-wrap and distribution.
In February, Rancho recalled all 8.7 million pounds of beef processed at the facility in 2013. The company has been accused of circumventing inspection rules and is being investigated by the USDA, the agency's inspector general and the U.S. Attorney General's Office.
Robert Singleton, one of Rancho's owners, has denied that animals were ever slaughtered without inspectors present. There have been no confirmed reports of illness linked to the recall.
Evans, a fourth-generation rancher, assembled a group of investors to buy the Petaluma slaughterhouse. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Evans said the facility cost "several million dollars." The deal closed Feb. 28.
Marin Sun operates ranches near Inverness, butcher shops in Oakland and Point Reyes Station and a meat-cutting plant in San Francisco. Evans also purchases cattle from other ranches in the region.
Sonoma County Farm Bureau Executive Director Tim Tesconi called the USDA approval "terrific news" for both Marin Sun and local ranchers.
"This is what we need in this county," he said.
The Petaluma plant is considered crucial to ranchers who raise grass-fed beef and sell it to high-end restaurants and at farmers markets. Without the plant, ranchers must take their cattle to processing facilities in Eureka or the Central Valley.
The USDA has authorized Marin Sun to process both beef and pork, according to the company's press release. Marin Sun said it hopes one day "in the near future" to also process lamb and goats, and to win organic certification by the end of the year.
Stephanie Larson, director of the UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County, said Marin Sun's plans will mean new opportunities for local ranchers.
"The potential for additional markets is going to increase, especially the organics," Larson said.
Adam Parks, owner of Victorian Farmstead Meat Co. in Sebastopol, predicted Marin Sun "will do a great job running the shop" in Petaluma. He said he now awaits details on what the company will charge to slaughter cattle.
"I would hope it would be a significant savings over going to the Valley," he said.
At Salmon Creek Ranch near Bodega, Jocelyn Brabyn is waiting to hear how soon she can take cattle to the Petaluma plant. Brabyn, the daughter of owners Lesley and John Brabyn, said the family is thrilled by news of federal approval for Evans' plans.
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