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.”
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May 2nd, 2014
08:13 PM ET
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CNN Exclusive by CNN Investigative Correspondent Chris Frates and CNN National Reporter Shannon Travis. 

PETALUMA, CALIFORNIA - Earlier this year, a dusty little slaughterhouse in Northern California was ground zero for one of the biggest meat recalls in years. Rancho Feeding Corp. had called back nearly 9 million pounds of bad meat from thousands of unsuspecting stores across the country.

The story of how millions of pounds of bad meat – products the U.S. Department of Agriculture called “unfit for human food” - made it out into the world and triggered a criminal investigation is one of staggering deception and cancerous cows, federal officials familiar with the investigation tell CNN. And the plant where it all went down was also the setting for an illicit romance, according to documents obtained by CNN.

Federal investigators started surveillance on the California facility after getting a tip from a former Rancho employee. In January, federal marshals raided the Petaluma plant and seized the company's records. Days later, the first recall notice went out, officials said.

Investigators now believe that Rancho was buying diseased dairy cows and processing them when government inspectors weren’t there. After the cows were killed, employees would hide the warning signs of cancer by trimming off diseased parts, using a fake stamp of approval or even replacing the heads of sick cows with ones from healthy animals. It’s unclear which employees were involved, officials said.
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