Bad Meat Bosses Face Legal Chopping Block

Owners and employees of a California slaughterhouse that had to recall 8.7 million pounds of tainted beef early this year face federal felony charges, according to CNN. Co-owners Robert Singleton and Jesse J. "Babe" Amaral Jr., as well as two former employees, are charged with illegally distributing and selling contaminated meat.

Rancho Feeding Corporation of Petaluma, California faced a massive recall of 8,742,700 pounds of beef in February, according to the Department of Agriculture. As the agency charged then:

[I]t processed diseased and unsound animals and carried out these activities without the benefit or full benefit of federal inspection. Thus, the products are adulterated, because they are unsound, unwholesome or otherwise are unfit for human food and must be removed from commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

The recall was a Class I category, which means the existence of a health hazard with "a reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death." However, there have been no reported illnesses from use of the beef.

Earlier this week, a grand jury handed out the first three indictments, according to radio station KQED, with a total of 11 felony counts. Singleton was subsequently charged.

According to court documents, Singleton and Amaral and bought and slaughtered cows with epithelioma of the eye, a type of tumor also called "cancer eye," according to Food Safety News. The condition is a common reason for USDA inspectors to condemn meat.

However, according to prosecutors, Rancho Feeding would dupe inspectors by cutting off the heads of the affected cattle and swapping them for heads from normal carcasses. That allowed them to pass off the bad meat. Another tactic allegedly used was for employees to carve out "USDA condemned" stamps from other carcasses.

In all, the company reportedly processed and sold meat from 79 cattle with cancer eye and 101 condemned cattle. The beef may have reached as many as 35 states and Guam, as CNN reported. Thousands of retailers were on the list of businesses that might have received meat from Rancho Feeding. A "small quantity" of the beef was used in the production of Hot Pockets sandwiches that are made by Nestle USA.

One twist, according to CNN, was that the USDA safety inspector was in a "romantic relationship" with a Rancho Feeding plant foreman. Although the inspector complained to managers about the processing of diseased cows, a romance with an employee would still be a breach of regulations. A lawyer for Amaral in May said that the relationship was unrelated to the recall.

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