Did you ever have that “sustainable” high-end meat from Belcampo Meat Company? Well, some bits of it were found on the bathroom floor covered with ants at their meat-processing plant, according to new documents that have come to light from a USDA investigation.
I admit I’m one of those people who fell hook, line, and sinker for the foodie baloney served by the Belcampo Meat Company, the Oakland-based sustainable meat purveyor who promised “We believe that it’s possible to produce better tasting, higher quality meat in a way that’s sustainable and healthy for our customers and the land we share.” Their expansion of butcher shops and restaurants spanned across the Bay Area and into southern California.
But they were effectively brought down by the May 2021 Instagram post below (which is quite profane BTW) from a Santa Monica employee who pointed out that the company was just repackaging less sustainable, conventional meat into fake-label wrappers claiming the meat was locally sourced and organic. That scandal ended up bringing down Belcampo’s entire retail operations six months after. The company claimed such mislabeling only happened at the Santa Monica shop, but the reputational damage was lethal for a brand that sold itself on quality and “slow food” chic, plus the exceptionally high prices that come with that.
But now we learn of a far more reputation-damaging (and stomach-churning) scandal about that allegedly free-range and organic meat. The Chronicle has obtained U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports from their Siskiyou County meat-packing plant detailing repeat violations of abysmally unsanitary conditions at the plant.
Pieces of animal meat and fat were strewn throughout Belcampo’s plant: on hallways and rugs, the floors of restrooms.— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) December 7, 2022
It was September 2020 and one of many days that government inspectors flagged an array of sanitation, safety and labeling violations.https://t.co/mFetkE2aQf
“Pieces of animal meat and fat were strewn throughout Belcampo Meat Co.’s processing plant: on hallways and rugs, the floors of restrooms and an employee break room. In some areas, ants crawled on the abandoned flesh,” the Chronicle describes the documents as reporting. The alleged violations the USDA described “range from smaller issues, such as full trash cans that hadn’t been emptied from the day before to more alarming ones, like bathrooms strewn with ant-covered meat.”
The Chron also describes “the discovery of a leaking, blood-covered box with ‘discolored’ meat inside; mold growing on pallets; pork product giving off a ‘foul smell.’”
The USDA declined to comment because of “an open investigation,” but that at least confirms there is an investigation. The USDA also said releasing the full documents “could interfere with law enforcement proceedings,” which indicates there could be some serious legal trouble looming for the company’s former executives, in addition to the retaliation lawsuits from whistleblower employees, and a class-action suit from jilted customers who say they were sold “falsely advertised” meat.
Belcampo's brand was successfully marketed as an organic and sustainable enterprise that bucked the trend of factory farming, but these revelations instead paint the picture of a growth-at-all costs startup with loose ethics and a meat-processing plant that was no less abhorrent than conventional ones.
Their money guy Todd Robinson pulled in $50 million in investments to start the company in 2o11, and co-founder and CEO Anya Fernald played the role of “thought leader,” hawking cookbooks and appearing on food TV shows. But apparently the company culture was pressuring its plant to produce as much meat as possible, and at some point they had way more demand than supply.
When the mislabeling scandal broke, Belcampo’s “internal investigation” claimed only a small percentage of the meat was mislabeled, and the problem was exclusive to the Santa Monica shop in the Instagram post. But that may not be so.
“The inspectors’ reports also cite improperly labeled meat months before the scandal broke, which contradict Belcampo’s claims that the mislabeling was isolated to a single butcher shop in Santa Monica,” the Chronicle writes.
So what actually happens now, considering the company is out of business? The Siskiyou County ranch and meat-packing plant closed in October 2021, and Belcampo Meat Co. no longer exists. But if there are some sort of “law enforcement proceedings” ongoing, then suffice it to say the former leaders of the company may not be selling many more cookbooks or getting any more Iron Chef appearances.
Image: Belcampo Butcher Shop via Yelp