Engeljohn reportedly ruled out a quick end to the probes against Rancho.

"This investigation is probably going to continue for many more weeks," said Huffman.

The USDA official spoke of "very deceptive practices" by Rancho, Huffman said. Others privately said Engeljohn spoke repeatedly of Rancho's "deception."

Robert Singleton and Jesse "Babe" Amaral, who were co-owners of Rancho when it closed, did not return calls for comment Friday. There have been no reported cases of illness involving the recalled products.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents Petaluma, said he told Engeljohn and a regional USDA official at the meeting that local ranchers were thrown "under the bus unnecessarily" by being lumped into the recall.

The closed plant on Petaluma Boulevard North was purchased last month by David Evans, owner of Marin Sun Farms. Rabbitt said he asked Friday what the USDA was doing to help Evans reopen the plant.

"They did assure me it was going through the process as quickly as possible," Rabbitt said.

News reports have noted the Rancho investigation involves processed cows that may have had eye cancer. But Engeljohn told the gathering "that's only one issue," Rabbitt said. "It goes beyond that."

Engeljohn also noted that 44,000 establishments had received products that are now tied to the recall. In contrast, the USDA's this week posted online the names of nearly 6,400 establishments in 35 states that received products with meat from the Rancho plant.

However, that list also names 66 regional and national retailers, whose stores could greatly expand that figure.

Thompson, D-St. Helena, said the USDA officials are still looking at whether they can release the ranchers' meat from the recall. He suggested that they will be understandably cautious.

"They shouldn't release anything," he said, "if there's any chance it will cause any problems to consumers."