KANSAS CITY, Mo. – In the wake of a federal investigation of Rancho Feeding’s allegations of distributing adulterated, misbranded and uninspected meat products resulting in the recall of 8.7 million lbs. of meat, Bill Niman was an unfortunate victim in the scandal. Niman, now owner of BN Ranch and formerly of Niman Ranch until financial complications forced him to walk away from his namesake company in 2007, was ordered to dispose of grass-fed beef valued at $400,000 because of links to the tainted beef processed at Rancho. He says the reasoning behind him being financially punished for Rancho’s mistakes are unfounded. Niman discussed his history in the meat industry and his unfortunate involvement with the Rancho debacle as part of a story to be published in Meat&Poultry’s October issue.

Bill Niman, owner of BN Ranch, was forced to dispose of grass-fed beef valued at $400,000 because of the Rancho Feeding Corporation scandal.

During an exclusive interview with Meat&Poultry Contributing Editor Bruce Aidells – who founded and later sold Aidells Sausage Company and now works as a consultant, food writer, chef and cookbook author – Niman says most of the producers who worked with Rancho were not affected, as most of their meat had presumably been consumed long ago. Below is an excerpt from the story:

While some of these producers may have had some inventory frozen, and consequently unsalable, BN Ranch had a considerable amount of their inventory frozen (about 90,000 lbs.). The fact that Niman kept such a large frozen inventory is a reflection of his core values, a commitment to service his customers in the best way. Niman believes that the best grass-fed beef is seasonal and therefore harvests his animals only when the animals are at their peak and well-fed from rich grass (some of his meat would even grade at Prime). But some customers need supplies year-round so he keeps a considerable frozen inventory to supply them.

The question is why did the US Dept. of Agriculture impound Niman's meat or the meat of any of Rancho's custom processing clients in the first place? Niman’s view is that USDA unreasonably feared that the operators of Rancho may have done an after-hours bait-and-switch with his carcasses. Yet, as Bill points out, this makes zero sense. All of Niman's cattle were processed under proper USDA inspection with either Niman himself or his cattle manager Don McNab present, so no shenanigans would have taken place then. If there was a supposed bait-and-switch, it could only have occurred when the carcasses hung in the Rancho cooler.

But as Niman notes, his cattle carcasses are considerably different than the spent dairy cows that Rancho may have illegally processed and are easily distinguished. The grass-fed beef carcasses are smaller, have a different confirmation, different color and distinct fat cover. Niman says no competent meat person could have confused spent dairy carcasses for those from grass-fed beef cattle in peak condition. Furthermore, Rancho would have no incentive to bait-and-switch since they sold their meat only into the commodity market by carcass weight at so many cents per pound. Making a substitution would actually result in them getting less money per carcass because spent dairy cows tend to be quite a bit heavier than the grass-fed beef carcasses owned by Niman.

The quartered carcasses were transferred from Rancho to a USDA processing plant where fabrication took place also under combined USDA and BN Ranch supervision. Each carcass was carefully examined when it arrived for processing, making a bait-and-switch even less likely. Niman does not understand why the USDA behaved so irresponsibly toward BN Ranch and insisted on refusing to accept the argument that any bait-and-switch by Rancho would have defied logic. The USDA choice to punish Rancho at BN Ranch's expense raises doubts that the mission of the USDA to help and protect meat businesses.

Even with this severe financial setback, Bill Niman is a survivor and BN Ranch continues without compromising its core values of sustainability and the ability to produce high-quality, wholesome meats.

Read the rest of this story in the upcoming issue of Meat&Poultry this October.