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Marin beef producer works to save meat from recall (w/video)

  • Bolinas rancher Bill Niman has thousands of pounds of frozen beef in a Richmond warehouse he cannot sell after the recall of meat processed by Rancho Feeding Corp. in Petaluma. Niman maintains a breeding herd on his southern Point Reyes ranch. (John Burgess / PD)

Marin County beef producer Bill Niman goes to extreme lengths to track his animals from birth to slaughter.

He's hoping his records will prove his beef is safe and convince federal regulators to reverse a decision that will force him to destroy at least $300,000 worth of frozen meat caught up in the Rancho Feeding Corporation recall.

Niman and his wife Nicolette Hahn Niman are among a small group of upscale North Bay ranchers who have been ordered to surrender all beef processed last year at the Petaluma slaughterhouse.

Rancho Feeding Corp.

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The financial damage to North Bay ranchers — many of them raising high-end, grass-fed beef — makes the Rancho case rare among meat recalls, experts said. And to date no one has revealed such potentially huge losses as the Nimans.

The Bolinas couple, who started BN Ranch in 2007, said their company's freezers contain nearly 100,000 pounds of pasture-raised meats, none of which currently can be sold. That amounts to more than a quarter of all the meat they processed last year at Rancho.

BN customers have returned another $40,000 worth of meat that can't be resold. Niman said a Rancho owner told him the slaughterhouse isn't liable for that loss.

“We're the ones taking a big hit on this,” said Niman, 69, who also founded Niman Ranch in the early 1970s and is widely considered one of the early leaders in humane and sustainable meat production. He since has severed ties with the Alameda-based meat company that still bears his name.

The couple said the losses may put them out of business. They have asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to review documents showing that BN managers or Niman himself were at Rancho with USDA inspectors every time their animals were killed and processed.

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