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PETALUMA, Calif. (AP) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is alleging that a California slaughterhouse engaged in "circumvention" of federal inspection rules - a charge strongly denied by one of the facility's owners.

The USDA issued a short statement Thursday on the ongoing investigation into Petaluma-based Rancho Feeding Corp., which voluntarily halted operations this month following a recall of more than 8.7 million pounds of beef products that it processed.

The facility is accused of processing diseased and unhealthy animals without a full federal inspection. The Santa Rosa Press Democrat says the document from the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service suggests a distinction between an accidental breach in slaughterhouse protocol and intentional wrongdoing.

RELATED: Calif. company recalls 8.7 million pounds of meat

Rancho co-owner Robert Singleton insists the plant consistently slaughtered animals in accordance with the USDA's rules.

The USDA inspector general is conducting a separate investigation into the plant.

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