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.