PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) — A California slaughterhouse that recently recalled more than 8.7 million pounds of beef circumvented federal inspection rules, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

The USDA issued a short statement Thursday regarding an investigation into Petaluma-based Rancho Feeding Corp., which voluntarily halted operations this month. The facility is accused of processing diseased and unhealthy animals without a full federal inspection.

The document from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service suggested a distinction between an accidental breach in slaughterhouse protocol and intentional wrongdoing, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat (

The USDA announced the meat recall on Feb. 8. The USDA has not received any reports of illness linked to the meat, an agency spokesman told the newspaper.

Rancho co-owner Robert Singleton denied the USDA’s allegation and insisted the plant consistently slaughtered animals in accordance with the USDA’s rules.

“There was always an inspector on the property. We never harvested without an inspector on site,” Singleton said.

Rancho Feeding, operated by Singleton’s partner Jesse “Babe” Amaral, initiated a recall last month that’s spread beyond local markets and custom-beef ranchers to national chains including Walmart, Kroger and Food 4 Less.

More than 1,600 food distributors in the United States and Canada are now named as part of the recall that asks consumers to return products including beef jerky, taquitos, hamburger patties and Hot Pockets frozen sandwiches.

Meanwhile, another prominent California rancher, Marin Sun Farms, announced Thursday that they intend to buy the embattled Rancho plant.

Marin Sun founder and CEO David Evans said he has a deal in escrow to purchase the plant and will expand operations to slaughter species other than cattle and process organic-certified meat.

Evans, a fifth-generation rancher in Marin County, said the deal involved “several million dollars,” but did not disclose specifics.

Singleton confirmed that a deal is underway to sell Rancho.

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