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USDA Inspector: Supervisors Ignored Reports of Trouble at Petaluma Slaughterhouse

| February 27, 2014
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California beef cattle

(David McNew/Getty Images)

Rancho Feeding Corp., the Petaluma slaughterhouse at the center of a massive beef recall, may have processed animals with cancer of the eye, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That’s one development reported Wednesday about the facility, which is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another development: the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that a USDA inspector tried to flag problems at the plant to her supervisors, only to be ignored.

‘If the inspector saw violations and was thwarted in her ability to do her job … then USDA is culpable.’

On Wednesday, KQED’s Mina Kim talked with Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group Food and Water Watch. He noted there is an internal whistleblower line for USDA inspectors to call if they feel supervisors are ignoring violations.

“There are avenues for an inspector to contact the Office of Inspector General,” Corbo said. “There is a whistleblower hotline that inspectors can call to report that they’re finding violations and being thwarted in their ability to do their job.”

It is unclear whether or not the USDA inspector in question called the whistleblower line.

Could the USDA be culpable for what happened at Rancho Feeding Corp.?

“For 9 million pounds of meat to go into commerce without inspection leads me to believe that there was a breakdown in the inspection process,” Corbo said. “If in fact the inspector on the scene saw violations of law and regulations and attempted to deal with them, and she was thwarted in her ability to do her job, then yes. USDA is culpable.”

For more on the processing of animals with cancer of the eye, Mina Kim spoke with Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University professor who wrote the American Meat Institute’s humane slaughter guidelines.

She noted that USDA inspectors are required to inspect the cows live in the yard, and that cancer of the eye would be visible on a live cow to an inspector, though the disease can vary in severity from a tiny spot to where it has eaten away part of the cow’s face. USDA officials say Rancho Feeding Corp. circumvented inspectors.

As for the health consequences of eating meat from a cow that had cancer of the eye?

“It’s very disgusting, but you’re probably going to be just fine,” Grandin said. “There’s other things I’d be a lot more worried about, like tuberculosis.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reports a lawyer for one of the owners of Rancho Feeding Corp. says the company is cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

On February 28, KQED reporter Mina Kim discussed the latest on the USDA’s investigation of Rancho Feeding Corp. with Scott Shafer on KQED’s “Newsroom”:

On February 18, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat published a partial list of specific products subject to the Rancho Feeding Corp. recall. Some affected products include:

  • El Monterey Beef & Cheese Taquitos – Flour Tortillas, 20 count
  • El Monterey Ranchero Steak Tornados, 4.5 lb (24 count)
  • Hot Pocket Philly Steak & Cheese, 9 oz., UPC4369507107
  • Hot Pocket Croissant Crust Philly Steak & Cheese, 9 oz., UPC 4369505634
  • Hot Pocket Philly Steak & Cheese, 54 oz., UPC 4369507520
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