Regenerative farming and sustainable practices have gained swift popularity in recent years, as consumers become increasingly aware of their personal footprints and the effects their diets leave on our planet. Some wish to improve their health by cutting down on artificial additives often found in factory-produced meats, while others are driven by ethical concerns surrounding the treatment of livestock on industrial-grade farms.
Enter Belcampo: one of many meat producers promising a responsible and sustainable farm-to-table experience. Founded in 2012, the California-based company began as a 30,000-acre estate located in Gazelle, California at the base of Mt. Shasta. Today, the company has expanded to include an FDA-approved processing facility, a full-service butcher shop, and restaurants offering farm-to-table dining.
Co-founder Anya Fernald describes Belcampo’s mission as one which strives to “…improve the quality of these incredible products we love to cook with.” According to their site, Belcampo does just that: promoting practices such as humane livestock handling, regenerative agriculture and pure transparency in regards to the meat it produces.
Early last month however, allegations began to surface from former Belcampo staff members, claiming that the company’s image of sustainable, high-quality production might not be all that it seems. According to employees, the company has been mislabeling its meat for over a year: passing off wholesale, factory-grade meat as exclusive Belcampo Farms product. Mislabeled meats are alleged to have originated from locations at both Santa Monica and West Third Street.
According to photos provided by one former employee, Belcampo’s storage contained shipments of meat products including chicken and beef that were sourced from neither Belcampo nor its list of exclusive “partner farms” cited on the company’s website. The employee, Even Reiner, revealed photos pre-packaged, vacuum-sealed USDA beef filets stored for use at the Belcampo locations. Such filets are typically corn fed, purchased at around $10 per pound and resold for as high as $47.99 as a sustainable, Belcampo product. Additional mislabeled items were said to include non-organic Pasturebird chicken, along with rib racks hailing from National Beef: a company which allegedly sources from factory farms.
In his story on Instagram, Reiner expressed remorse for his role in the scandal, stating:
“I apologize to all the customers that I lied to for the past 2 1/2 years to keep my job. They are lying to your face and charging $47.00 per pound for filet that is either USDA choice and corn-fed, or from a foreign country.”
Alongside Reiner, five additional sources comprised of past and present employees insist that the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Sources allege that the mislabeling and intentional lack of transparency have persisted as rampant issues within the company for months—beyond the Santa Monica and West Third Street locations. Pressures of the COVID pandemic were cited as a strain upon the company’s supply chains, further exacerbating their habit of mislabeling products. Further investigation revealed that several suppliers of the mislabeled meats were seemingly unaware of Belcampo’s actions, with Pasturebird in particular threatening “swift corrective action” should the allegations be proven true.
When questioned on the allegations, Belcampo co-founder Anya Fernald did not deny that outsourced meat was being resold by the company. Fernald claimed the matter was simply an “isolated incident”, separate from online sales and other Belcampo locations. Fernald went on to remark:
“The individual butcher-shop locations have a small degree of autonomy when it comes to outsourcing products for their local customer base, or when there are supply shortages on certain items. [The company] has srict protocols in place for any products that are purchased from other suppliers, and that includes making sure these meats are clearly labelled at the point of purchase, or in the meat case.”
Belcampo returned to Instagram following a brief hiatus in late May, amid what was described as an “ongoing and active investigation.” Changes to company policy appear to already be enacted, with the official website featuring a new page that reads:
“Belcampo is now exclusively selling Belcampo Farms and partner farms verified products in all of its shops. We are no longer allowing any external sourcing of product by the restaurants.”
This rule aligns with claims from some Belcampo employees, who described the farm and its eateries as separate entities: one hand rarely aware of what the other was doing. To boost the restaurants’ finances, employees allege that financial managers advised that meat be outsourced from local supply chains for wholesale prices, rather than solely from Belcampo Farms. According to Reiner, shipments of wholesale meat would be trimmed into smaller cuts to create the illusion of fuller meat cases in the Santa Monica store. Describing the shop’s budget as limited to around $2,000 per week, Reiner claimed that ordering from outside sources was “the only way to fill the case within the budget.”
Despite their new commitments to change, it may be some time before Belcampo truly regains the trust of its customer base. Those willing to spend nearly $50 per pound of meat quite rightfully expect to receive what is advertised to them: carefully-crafted, environmentally-friendly products they can trust. With the regenerative movement only growing more competitive each year, only time will tell whether Belcampo can remain a relevant player in the field.
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