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Petaluma Slaughterhouse Recall Hurting Bay Area Organic Beef Ranchers

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Livestock inside a pen at a slaughterhouse in Petaluma.

Livestock inside a pen at a slaughterhouse in Petaluma.

(CBS) Betty Yu
Betty Yu joined KPIX 5 in November 2013 as a general assign...
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PETALUMA (KPIX 5) – Nationwide, consumers have been affected by the recall of 9 million pounds of beef from a Petaluma slaughterhouse. But nowhere is it hurting more than right here in the Bay Area, the heart of the organic grass-fed beef movement.

Bill Niman is a household name for many Bay Area consumers. He founded Niman Ranch 40 years ago.

Though he’s since left the company and started a new one called BN Ranch, he is still very much in the business of locally raising grass-fed beef.

The Niman’s had an ambitious plan to triple their business to meet the enormous demand. But now they’ve had to put those plans on hold.

“We have to have these slaughterhouses for our local farmers, or there’s no way to get the product to the consumer,” Nicolette Niman told KPIX 5. She and her husband know what they’re talking about. They are the pioneers of the locally raised grass-fed beef industry.

More Information About Beef Recall:

The closure of the Bay Area’s only slaughterhouse means it will be harder to get this kind of top of the line beef to dinner tables. “I don’t know if we can survive this hit,” he said.

The Niman’s said they are sitting on more than 100,000 pounds of frozen meat from more than 400 cows, and he’s out at least $300,000, all because of the recall involving Rancho Feeding Corporation.

“The money is painful but it’s even more painful for someone if you raise animals you take them to the slaughterhouse, you’re involved in the killing of those animals and the real payback for that is being able to feed people,” said Bill.

“It’s really morally troubling. We can’t imagine taking the lives of all these animals and then just throwing it all and wasting it all away,” said Nicolette.

Bill knows his cows so well they come when he calls. It’s a business model is based on compassion, the idea that cattle can be raised humanely. It all starts on the Niman’s ranch in Bolinas. After nine months, the calves leave their mothers and go on to other company ranches in Contra Costa County in different seasons, so they are always eating lush green grass. This process takes 2.5 years before they are ready for slaughter.

The Niman’s believe the recall has to do with older dairy cows, which are slaughtered at the same place, but the cows are kept apart. “It’s really two totally separate streams,” said Nicolette.

They said that they watch every single one of their grass-fed animals as it goes through inspection and slaughter. “There’s no allegation that there was any contaminant in the plant that would affect all the meat,” said Nicolette.

“We are trying to convince the USDA that they should exclude our beef,” said Bill.

Meanwhile, Marin Sun Farms, a gourmet meat producer, has submitted an application to take over operations at the slaughterhouse. But that still could take a while.

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