Bill Niman has given up his fight to save meat recalled even though it wasn't involved in alleged slaughterhouse scheme. (Mina Kim/KQED)
Bill Niman has given up fight to save meat recalled, even though it wasn’t involved in alleged slaughterhouse scheme. (Mina Kim/KQED)

A North Bay rancher has disposed of 30 tons of grass-fed meat that he was blocked from selling because of a federal recall of possibly tainted beef from a Petaluma slaughterhouse.

Bill Niman’s BN Ranch was left with about 100,000 pounds of unsellable meat after the recall earlier this year, despite producing documents showing that its products had received proper inspections at Petaluma’s Rancho Feeding Corp.

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Monday accuses Rancho Feeding’s owners and workers of circumventing U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections and slaughtering and selling cattle that had been condemned or had shown signs of eye cancer.

Niman had stored his impounded meat, worth an estimated $400,000, hoping that ongoing federal investigations would turn up information favorable to his case and eventually allow him to sell it.

He was allowed to distribute some of the meat to family and friends. But he says he sent about 60,000 pounds to a rendering plant for disposal earlier this month.

“We couldn’t continue to pay the thousands of dollars per month for storage, so we had to let it go, sadly,” Niman says.

And there’s more bad news for Niman and other beef producers caught up in the 9 million-pound Rancho recall. The USDA says ranchers who lost products because of the recall won’t get federal financial help because there’s no formal program to provide such assistance.

“I’m a little surprised,” Niman says. “There has been some historical precedent for USDA helping people out when they have been basically innocent victims of USDA actions.”

Beef Producer Niman Dumps 30 Tons of Meat Caught Up in Recall 18 August,2014Mina Kim

  • Jon Hildreth

    how is niman an innocent victim of USDA actions; they are victims of this shoddy slaughterhouse they chose to do business with! completely sad this meat and animals were wasted…but it’s not the USDA’s fault

    • Good Food Web

      It is [some facet of] the USDA’s fault entirely, if you are willing to accept these sad facts as plausible: Niman’s cows were entirely uninvolved in the incidents that led to the slaughterhouse shutdown, with proven documentation (One of the Niman’s themselves and the inspectors were there).

      So Niman’s cows are completely safe. It’s the USDA’s job to make sure beef is acceptably clean and safe. The USDA has documents showing that specifically Niman’s beef is safe, but still refuses to let it be sold.

      This is a commercial variant of “guilt-by-association” (you did business with this slaughterhouse, even though the business you did was completely above-board, ethical, and legal, you will be subject to government takings anyway). Guilt-by-association is fundamentally opposed to the United States founding theories of justice and is unlawful under the US constitution.

      • Jon Hildreth

        Yes but this vendor was acting unethically and cheating. it wasn’t simply a recall because of a mistake; it was purposeful deception. unfortunately when you do business these days you need to assure everyone within your chain is acting responsibly otherwise you can and will go down with them. This is highly the case when any regulatory body and regulations come into play. You can’t simply separate yourself from the 3rd Party and document your way out; We cannot expect the USDA to try and unravel the truths from the lies within the same time frame. We already know the documentation onsite is suspect.
        Of course there’s a better process that can be formulated going forward…but that has to already be in place when things like this happen. Plus we have to pay for it.

  • Rae Claire

    He brought in his own crew, but still got burned. There is no other slaughterhouse in the area.

    • Jon Hildreth

      after the fact is hard to defend. it’s truly sad but a learning lesson hopefully. If i were niman i’d setup an audit process…or improve any existing audit process. i would guess this wasn’t the first time this place behaved this way; it’s the first time they got caught.

      • Johna Grim

        He had an audit process. The USDA Inspector on-site participated in the audit process. Senior USDA are punishing Niman and belittling their own inspector. USDA should consider Niman’s audit process a potential “best practice” going forward.

        • Jon Hildreth

          really? sounds like a conflict of interest. i would audit the audit! food safety is no joke (or should be) and we deserve a USDA that is completely independent of outside influence. as for niman i’d suggest the same approach to audits plus build in financial payouts for any inspection findings regardless of whether they included niman product or not. this is not an unusual contract stipulation when regulations are involved. what does the usda have to gain for punishing niman? others sound closer to the story so i’m curious.

          • Johna Grim

            Clearly, this little audit process cannot stand alone. I agree that accountability/responsibility lies with the USDA and that we not only deserve it, we pay for it. The role of the FDA & USDA, minimally, should be reconfirmed/revised and how that role is to be met. Its execution/operation – audited and revised to achieve it. And more. Good question: “what does the usda have to gain for punishing niman?” I hope we get an answer.



Mina Kim

Mina Kim is KQED News’ evening anchor and the Friday host of Forum. She reports on a wide range of issues affecting the Bay Area and interviews newsmakers, local leaders and innovators.

Mina started her career in public radio at KQED as an intern with Pacific Time. When the station began expanding its local news coverage in 2010, she became a general assignment reporter, then health reporter for The California Report. Mina’s award-winning stories have included on-the-scene reporting of the 2014 Napa earthquake and a series on gun violence in Oakland.

Her work has been recognized by the Radio Television Digital News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the Asian American Journalists Association.

Mina grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Oak Park, CA. She lives in Napa.

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