PETALUMA, Calif. – Rancho Feeding Corp., which recently recalled 8.7 million lbs. of beef, is under criminal investigation by the federal government for killing and selling meat from dairy cows that allegedly had eye cancer, according to unnamed sources, according to a Feb. 26 report published by the San Francisco Chronicle. The company was allegedly buying cows with eye cancer, removing their heads so inspectors couldn't detect the disease and illegally selling the meat, the sources charge.

While this practice is against federal law, experts say people would not likely become sick after eating the meat. To date, no one has reported becoming ill from eating the suspect meat. Both the recall and criminal investigation is affecting Rancho, as well as private cattle producers, who used the facility for custom slaughtering. Bill Niman, a well-known cattleman who formerly owned Niman Ranch and whose business is now focused on producing grass-fed beef, contracted with Rancho company to slaughter 427 head of grass-fed cattle and is participating in the recall. According to the report, he is holding back approximately 100,000 lbs. of beef, pending the investigation.

In a Feb. 26 statement on behalf of Jesse Amaral, owner of Rancho Feeding Corporation, Jeffrey Bornstein, an attorney with K&L Gates LLP, addressed the safety of Niman’s beef and said Amaral has strived to run a first-rate local slaughtering facility for the past 40 years.

“His company was always considered one of the top meat processors in the state,” he added. “He is very sorry for any impact that this situation has caused his customers and the meat-buying public.”
In an effort to clarify media reports and inform the public, Bornstein pointed out that Amaral and Rancho officials continue cooperating with the federal government in its investigation. “None of Bill Niman’s cows, or the meat from other local custom beef ranchers, were in any way tainted, diseased or uninspected -- the records and documentation obtained by federal investigators support this fact,” according to the statement.

“There is no reason for the government to prevent Bill Niman and other local custom beef ranchers from distributing the beef from their cattle because it is wholesome and was fully inspected.”
Since the recall was initiated, the plant has voluntarily shut down and is in escrow with new buyers. Although USDA officials can’t discuss the case since Rancho is under investigation, one source did charge the company bought animals with a specific type of cancer found in the optical area of a cow.

In the Chronicle report, James Cullor, professor of population health and reproduction at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, said cows suffering from eye cancer aren't necessarily dangerous to eat. He doesn’t recommend eating the meat, however. It’s possible the cancer had spread to other parts of the animal's body, he warned.