A criminal investigation into Rancho Feeding Corporation is examining allegations the Petaluma plant slaughtered cows with cancer and illegally sold the carcasses as healthy meat, according to a source with knowledge of the probe.
“Basically, Rancho had figured out a way to sell meat for profit that they would otherwise have had to destroy,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Federal investigators believe the heads of cows with eye cancer were cut off, apparently to remove evidence, the source said. Meat from the diseased cows was then mingled with healthy meat and sold under the Rancho brand, the source said.
Rancho Feeding Corp.
Federal law forbids meat from diseased cows from being sold for human consumption.
The source said the USDA discovered a crucial piece of evidence when an investigator followed a Rancho truck from Petaluma to a meat rendering plant near Sacramento. Inside were cow heads that didn't match carcasses, the source said.
Robert Singleton, who owns Rancho with partner Jesse “Babe” Amaral, declined Wednesday to discuss the allegations.
“I cannot comment,” he said.
The slaughterhouse, which closed Feb. 9, is at the center of an international recall of all beef and veal produced at the plant in 2013, some 8.7 million pounds of meat. No illnesses linked to the meat have been reported. The company is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the USDA's inspector general and the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The USDA has said the plant is under investigation for “intermittent circumvention” of the inspection process, which involves repeated examinations of the animal from the time it leaves the truck at the slaughterhouse through its death and processing.
The scheme described by the source would have had to completely bypass the inspection process or else involve the USDA veterinarian or inspector assigned to the slaughterhouse, a former USDA supervising veterinarian said.