May 2nd, 2014
08:15 PM ET
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CNN Exclusive by CNN Investigative Correspondent Chris Frates

BOLINAS, CALIFORNIA - Bill Niman’s name has long been synonymous with high-quality, humanely raised beef - featured on menus and store shelves across the country. So it was something of a shock when his beef was caught up in a massive recall earlier this year.

In January, Rancho Feeding Corp. started recalling nearly 9 million pounds of bad meat. Federal officials tell CNN that inspectors believe the Petaluma, California, slaughterhouse was buying cancerous cows and processing them when government inspectors weren’t looking.

But Niman said he only used the plant to slaughter his own BN Ranch cattle, not old, cancerous dairy cows. In fact, he said, either he or his employees were with the cattle during inspections and slaughters, so there's no way his cattle and the cancerous cows could have been mixed up.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture disagreed, saying it couldn’t guarantee that Niman’s beef wasn’t swapped with or contaminated by the cancerous meat.

Niman calls the USDA’s logic “preposterous,” arguing that the difference between his cattle and the cows Rancho was buying is obvious - “the difference between a motorcycle and an automobile.”

Unfit for Human Consumption: How nearly 9 million pounds of bad meat escaped into the food supply

Even Jesse Amaral, one of Rancho’s former owners – the plant has since been sold – said through his lawyer that Niman’s beef was not “tainted, diseased or uninspected” and that “there is no reason” to prevent Niman from selling his beef “because it is wholesome and was fully inspected.”

Still, 100,000 pounds of beef is locked up in freezers, costing Niman about $400,000. To put that in perspective, BN Ranch’s revenue last year was less than $2 million.

"It's been devastating for our business. It's been a huge distraction. It's going to be a huge financial hit. We're going to have to borrow money or sell part of our company in order to stay alive,” he said.

Standing among 100 or so cattle on his ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Niman was pessimistic about the chances of the USDA reversing its ruling, and he's struggling to come to grips with having to throw the meat away.

After raising the cattle from birth and accompanying them to the slaughterhouse, Ninan said, the idea of tossing the meat into the dump is  “immoral.”

“It’s repugnant,” he said. “It’s incomprehensible to us, really.”

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Read: Unfit for Human Consumption: How nearly 9 million pounds of bad meat escaped into the food supply

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. rarirurero26


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    April 29, 2017 at 7:20 pm |
  2. Theodore Liv

    When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

    August 29, 2014 at 2:01 pm |
  3. Thinking things through

    I'm seriously crossing my fingers and hoping Niman gets out of this mess. Definitely NOT deserved.

    May 8, 2014 at 6:49 pm |
  4. kjackfuturerd

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    Are you eating a cancerous cow?

    May 6, 2014 at 6:15 am |
  5. Kathleen

    It is clear that the USDA is to blame YET AGAIN. This happens frequently these days, especially if you watch these types of articles. The USDA is too big and unmanageable and has lost control. They are always seeking to place blame on to others that do not have the protections they do!

    May 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm |
  6. stephanie

    wonder which of the govt. agencies that helped put you out of buisness will buy your coastal land and develop it into a condo complex

    May 3, 2014 at 11:50 am |
  7. Fi

    It is astounding that people still eat flesh. It is the main convergence of just about every enviro, food production, food availability, and health issue we face today.

    May 3, 2014 at 9:32 am |
    • Thinking things through

      It is also amazing that some people still just eat. We should absorb all nutrients through the air.

      May 5, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
  8. Jay

    Cancer cows have sold for slaughter for years, I have personally seen this when I was in the cattle trucking business , I remember a two headed cow that was sold to a local meat packer, where do you think all the fast food restaurants get their cheap beef? If you want a 99 cent hamburger , you get what you pay for, dried up or sick dairy cows. If people knew some of what I have seen you would never eat fast food hamburger again, my family will not eat them!

    May 3, 2014 at 6:50 am |
  9. hoagie

    Fry his greedy ass...

    May 3, 2014 at 3:30 am |
  10. Timothy Whiting

    Mr. Niman should go after that sleazy strumpet inspector for concealing the tainted meat which in turn caused disastrous consequences.

    May 3, 2014 at 2:41 am |
  11. Bill S.

    And people are sickened by lab grown meat?

    May 3, 2014 at 2:06 am |
  12. Lloyd Alford

    PLEASE do not EAT Calif. BEEF!!!!!!!! when we do this & the good guys suffer, maybe they will clean up the BAD GUYS short of DEATH, or LOSE their BUSNISS & WAY OF LIFE!!!!!!!!

    May 3, 2014 at 1:45 am |
  13. Connie

    I don't understand why no one is asking why so many cows are diseased and sick in the first place? Yes it is important that the meat from sick animals should not be distributed to the public for consumption, but no one is writing about why so many animals are so sick. That to me may even be a bigger story.

    May 3, 2014 at 1:41 am |
    • Kathleen

      You are right! We must be vigilant and the mainstream media must continue the pressure

      May 4, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
    • ∞Weeds∞

      Thank the Ag-gag laws for keeping it shady. Rather than fix the problems investigative reporting law maker prefer to put the subject on ignore.
      Who is not to say that the diseased cows are trucked across state lines to this and other slaughterhouses of ill repute. It's amazing that there is no rule/law outlawing the shipment of sick animals for the purpose of slaughter.

      May 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm |
    • What?

      There weren't that many cows "sick and diseased in the first place". You don't understand how the USDA effects a recall in a situation like this. They recall EVERYTHING that was produced in a given timeframe. There is no way all of that product was bad, but they don't know for sure what was and what wasn't, so they just recall everything.

      May 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm |
  14. Lloyd Alford

    IT just goes to show what companies will go to what lengths to make a PROFIT!!!!!!!!!!!

    May 3, 2014 at 1:39 am |
    • Kathleen

      EXACTLY!!! You know what you are talking about! They need to be blown out of the water!!

      May 4, 2014 at 12:26 pm |
  15. Yo

    Cancerous cows being fed GMO feed I'd suspect. MMMMM. . . Look mom, I have three hands and twenty-seven toes!

    May 3, 2014 at 1:28 am |
    • Legal Alien Doctor

      What baseless statement!
      Your comment really shows a total ignorance of the process.
      Genetics makes crops resistant to bacteria, fungus, and some viruses. The most common procedure involves transfering genetic information of similar species that nature has made more resistant to pests & have benefited of an evolutionary advantage. Not to worry, there is hope for people like yoU! I am director of a Stem Cell Therapy laboratory, & we have made great strides; there is hope that people like you may still be able to get a brain in your lifetime!

      May 3, 2014 at 3:20 am |
      • Shiley U. Jest

        And the genetically added (built in) pesticides and herbicides consumed in the grain has nothing to do with causing cancer? Here is an experiment you should try at home:
        Purchase a bottle of Roundup from your local store. Consume 1 drop a day. Continue until you show obvious signs of cancer – which should occur in less than 3 years. If you can do this for more than 3 years, then you will have disproved a huge concern of the Anti-GMO movement.

        May 6, 2014 at 1:20 pm |
        • Where's the R?

          Or die trying.

          May 6, 2014 at 1:23 pm |
        • What?

          No one has built Roundup(R), or glyphosate – the active ingredient, into any plant. The Bt toxin – a protein – they have engineered in is digested just like any other protein.

          Oh, yeah – you misspelled "Shirley", too.

          May 6, 2014 at 1:26 pm |
  16. Steve

    The difference between a motorcycle and a car, Mr. Niman? Motorcycles have 2 wheels. Cars have 4. Last time I checked, both healthy and cancerous cows have 4 legs. They are NOT visually distinguishable. Your faulty analogism convinces me that you are full of it and should not be trusted. I side with the USDA. Somehow, I think you will financially muddle through this bump in the road. That said, I hope you've learned your lesson concerning greed.

    May 3, 2014 at 1:20 am |
    • Nate

      Was making assumptions your major in college? Dozens of ranchers use the slaughterhouse. it wasn't Niman's slaughterhouse. It had nothing to do with his greed. Bill Niman a great reputation as a rancher. Do you even know how many thousands of cows it would take to come up with 9m lbs of beef? He has a 100,000 lbs of beef in limbo–that's probably around 130-150 head of cattle from his ranch. Do some critical thinking, jeez.

      May 3, 2014 at 11:59 am |
      • Shiley U. Jest

        So are you saying that one bad apple shouldn't spoil the whole bunch? Or are you saying the cattle producer, one who treats his cattle like they were his own children chose to send them to a "public school" instead of a highly reputable "private school" for " processing"? Perhaps this is a case of you get what you pay for.
        And yet, still there is no anger that this has, did and still does occur in the US.
        One thing not mention was over what period of time this 9 million pounds of beef was processed, and if the weigh is hoof weight or net weight of final goods.

        May 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
    • Experienced

      I've worked in packing houses, and looked at thousands of carcasses. Lots of difference in carcasess – while not the origina, you can often tell the breed by the carcass. Niman is actually understating it a bit – some carcasses look more like lambs – others like elephants. A better analogy could have been a motorcycle versus a truck.

      So don't opine when you don't know what you are talking about.

      May 4, 2014 at 12:50 am |
    • Kathleen

      Foolish on siding with the more homework and follow these kind of articles more closely. The USDA always declines comment. Why is that? They are too big and unmanageable. This is merely ONE MORE situation like the hundred others that are glossed over in the news.

      May 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
    • What?

      The "grievance" was specifically about cows with cancer-eye. And, yes, genius, these are very distinguishable – visually – from those not affected.

      What the vast majority of "you" don't understand is that there was not 9 million pounds of "contaminated" meat. In these situations, the USDA asks for a recall of ALL THE PRODUCT THAT WAS PRODUCED IN THE SPECIFIED TIMEFRAME. They don't "know" what was "good" and what was "bad", so they recall all of it. There is no way that every single animal slaughtered during that timeframe had cancer -eye.

      It is unfortunate that Mr. Niman's cattle were caught up in the middle of this, but unless he has solid records of exactly when these animals were slaughtered – and that there was definitely inspection present during all these times – he probably has no chance at all.

      May 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm |
  17. Sher Bach

    Just another reason not to eat meat. And as far as the USDA not knowing anything, playing dumb, getting duped...Bullsh*t. They are at the root of 99.9% of this countries problem with food. If the lobbyists have enough money to grease palms, you can betcher britches your plate will be greased with something that might taste good but be really unhealthy for you and your family. Investigate, fully, where your food comes from...or DON'T complain when you get sick, fat and tired....

    May 3, 2014 at 12:39 am |
    • Sher Bach

      I MUST be tired....caught my own typo too late...COUNTRY'S not countries...sorry...the spelling Nazi that lives inside my head speaks to me when I make a mistake...LOL

      May 3, 2014 at 12:41 am |
      • Steve

        Yeah, and what cure do you have for your self-righteousness? Investigate your own food? That's just ridiculous. Who has the resources and wherewithal to track their food sources back to the farm, much less the animal? Maybe that should keep you up at night, instead of spelling quandaries.

        May 3, 2014 at 1:24 am |
        • Kathleen

          Exactly! We don't have the resources and the agencies responsible for protecting mainstream society are not doing their job. Isn't that obvious?

          May 4, 2014 at 12:35 pm |
        • shellBell

          She didn't say to track anything. She said don't eat meat. Read then comment. Thanks.

          May 5, 2014 at 11:35 am |
  18. TomGI

    It has long been known that the USDA is one of the revolving door agencies allowing lobbyists to obtain government jobs and move back into the commercial business world with their contact lists so they can bastardize the system and grant special loopholes and laws to benefit their clients. Another is the FDA. Ralph Nader has spoken on this abomination and he certainly has argued before Congress to stop it. So far Congress hasn't wanted to bust their contributors because their PACs and campaigns are fueled by the big industrial trade groups and their distribution and retail outlets

    May 3, 2014 at 12:05 am |
  19. Todd

    Weight gain, animal abuse, higher carbon emissions, all related to beef consumption.

    May 2, 2014 at 11:44 pm |
  20. rcflyer8410

    No regulations or accountability. GOP scum have seen to this. In many red states, it is now a crime (which will be challenged and likely overturned) to photograph / video tape animal cruelty at these facilities and release it to the public. Yes, GOP scum could care less about animals... just the handouts they get from these scum business entities. Democrats aren't perfect and I do not agree with many things they do – but the GOP are 10000 times worse and are nothing more than a voice and face of the most horrific and immoral policies and acts in this country. Yes, the so-called "jesus party" is anything like the hero they worship.

    May 2, 2014 at 10:38 pm |
  21. ejb4501

    Business in this country, and VERY much the beef industry, is at war with the consumer. They blame the government, and GOP lawmakers take money away from inspectors. It's so wildly corrupt, it'[s disgusting. ANYthing for money, money, money. And the American People are suffering BIG-TIME because of it. From GMO to tainted beef to dangerous cars, you name it. Where the heck is morality anymore?!? And it SURE isn't in the churches whose congregations support these lawmakers who make it harder and harder to protect consumers.

    May 2, 2014 at 10:23 pm |
  22. DankoRamone

    Shouldn't the meat plant be liable for BN's losses? Even though the meat *might* be safe, it makes sense to prevent it's sale, given it was processed in a plant processing tainted meat. The risk of cross-contamination does exist. Had Rancho not been processing diseased cows, this issue wouldn't exist. BN should recover their losses, plus damages.

    May 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm |
    • Don Lewis

      Meat cannot be insured which is why this story is a real mess....we're doing a documentary on it:

      May 3, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
  23. RanchoCuccomonga

    But Mr. Cliven Patriot Bundy said them Ranchers are better than black people because Ranchers provide a service!

    May 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
    • Paul

      So some a**hole racist has less constitutional rights than the rest of us? Follow the money...

      May 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm |
    • Paul

      So some r*c*st has less constitutional rights than the rest of us? Follow the money...

      May 2, 2014 at 9:34 pm |
    • Paul

      So some r*c*st has less c*nst*t*tu**n*l r*ghts than the rest of us? Follow the money...

      May 2, 2014 at 9:43 pm |
  24. Paul

    Petaluma, California – his ranch overlooking the Pacific Ocean – follow the money and you will find a land developer or politico waiting to scoop up his land.

    May 2, 2014 at 9:18 pm |
    • Kathleen

      Interesting!! You are right! Its all about GREED! Well put

      May 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm |
  25. Joel

    Whoever is responsible should be sent to jail

    May 2, 2014 at 9:02 pm |
    • Kevin

      Good thought Joel. I would additionally require them to eat only their own tainted beef while incarcerated (so long as the taxpayers don't have to pay for their medical bills).

      May 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm |
    • Kathleen

      That would be the USDA and they have too many protections and are too large!

      May 4, 2014 at 12:29 pm |
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