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All meat handled by the slaughterhouse during the past year was included in the recall, a fact that is rubbing both ranchers and local officials the wrong way. Huffman said if Rancho did something inappropriate, "that needs to be dealt with" but added that the slaughterhouse's customers shouldn't be penalized for the company's alleged misdoings. "When you talk to the reputable ranchers like Bill Niman, they did nothing wrong here. The public needs to remember that," Huffman said.

Niman's Marin County based BN Ranch had more than 100,000 pounds of beef processed at Rancho Feeding, with a retail value of more than $300,000 — products he contends are perfectly safe for sale because his workers watched the processing and ensured the pre- and post-mortem inspections took place. Huffman said he and Thompson personally reached out to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Monday to connect him with with Niman to determine if there is any way producers can prove that their meat is fit for sale.

Jeremy Russell, spokesman for the North American Meat Association, said he was unaware of any cases in which a producer was able to sell recalled products.

"Once something is recalled, it's considered unfit for sale," he said.

If the meat can't be sold, it could mean substantial loses for the producers, Smith said. "A $300,000 hit, that's hard to recover from," she said of BN Ranch. "And there's no insurance for this."

Many ranchers have asked how, for an entire year, meat could leave the slaughterhouse with an official USDA inspection stamp if inspections weren't taking place. Especially since a USDA inspector has an office located directly across the yard from the slaughterhouse.

"There's at least one, and sometimes three, inspectors in the plant," said Mike Gale of Chileno Valley Ranch in Petaluma, which had around 90 cows processed at the plant last year. "I don't know how that can happen if there's a meat inspector on site."

With little information from the federal agencies involved, ranchers are left with feelings of frustration.

"There's a criminal accusation that's been made, they (the government bodies) should be required to say what it is," Smith said. "The handling of this has been abysmal."

She said the only silver lining is that Evans and Marin Sun Farms will take over the operation, with his own USDA permit, and continue to provide a place for local ranchers to have their beef processed once the investigations have concluded. Without that option, beef ranchers would have to pay to truck their animals to the Central Valley, which would prove cost prohibitive for many small ranches.

"(Evans) knows what he's doing," said Smith. "He'll be fabulous."

(Contact Emily Charrier at emily.charrier@arguscourier.com)