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Congressmen demand information about Petaluma slaughterhouse

  • Operations at the Rancho Veal Slaughterhouse are stopped after Rancho Veal Slaughterhouse after 8.7 million pounds of beef products was recently recalled in Petaluma on Thursday, February 13, 2014. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Six months after federal regulators closed a Petaluma slaughterhouse and initiated a nationwide beef recall, two North Bay congressmen are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture for answers about the still-ongoing investigations.

“Six months has been ample time,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said Monday of the probes into Rancho Feeding Corp. “They should have been able to give us information, and they haven’t.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said USDA officials “are using pending investigations as a convenient foil for complete secrecy and radio silence. … And that is simply not acceptable.”

In January, federal investigators and Petaluma police converged on the Petaluma plant, the North Bay’s last slaughterhouse. The facility closed in February amid a recall of 8.7 million pounds of its beef and veal sold in the United States and Canada — all that was processed there in 2013.

Roughly 44,000 retail establishments were involved in the recall, a USDA official told local ranchers. Ranchers who used the plant for custom slaughter of grass-fed cattle were told that any recalled meat still in their possession was unfit for human consumption.

Even as the investigations continued, another company, San Francisco-based Marin Sun Farms, purchased the slaughterhouse and reopened it in April.

The two congressmen expressed their frustration in a letter Friday to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. In it, they noted the agency hasn’t responded to media reports “of an intimate relationship between a USDA inspector and an employee of the slaughterhouse.”

Huffman and local ranchers have said Rancho also faces a criminal investigation.

Publicly, the USDA has said simply that Rancho circumvented federal inspection rules and “processed diseased and unsound animals.”

In March, a USDA official suggested to a small group of farmers that Rancho’s operators had engaged in “deception” so widespread that the regulators had to declare all the meat processed there unfit to eat.

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