The hammer finally came down on Amish farmer Amos Miller. Federal judge Edward Smith signed an order requiring Miller to pay a fine of $250,000, plus $14,436 of government expenses, for failing to abide by U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations covering the slaughter and sale of meat. If he fails to pay within 30 days, the fine could be increased, or he could even be jailed, according to the order. In addition, Miller is prohibited from slaughtering meat on the farm, at the threat of a $1,500 per day fine.
The swiftness of the decision was something of a surprise, since Judge Smith during a phone hearing July 19 had closely questioned Miller and his lawyers, as well as the lawyer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about whether Miller could come into compliance with USDA requirements within the next 60 days. Miller’s two lawyers had assured the judge that he wanted to come into compliance—by having meat slaughtered at a USDA-inspected facility and via a custom exemption that would allow him to slaughter chickens– and was willing to work with USDA inspectors to come up with a plan they could approve, after several plans for custom exemptions had been rejected.
There were also questions about Miller obtaining a retailer license from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. At one point, Miller pointed out to the judge potential issues with PDA: “What I am concerned about is what happens when PDA comes in here….everything has to be stainless steel when we have good equipment here right now. It looks like a very large battle to overcome….I am still trying to move forward to get PDA satisfied.”
Miller’s lawyers assured the judge Miller could, and was committed to coming into compliance. At one point, Elizabeth Rich, who was present in an advisory role, told Judge Smith: “Mr. Miller is truly committed to providing safe food. I have been working with Mr. Miller since 2008…His heart is in providing his members with the food they want. It is not about money or arrogance. He truly believes the food he provides is what they want. I believe we can work with him to help him come into compliance.”
But Judge Smith had clearly heard enough. A couple of times during the hearing he expressed frustration about the case, which has gone on in various forms over the last five years. At one point, he declared: “Throughout the entire United States of America, we have facilities that are in compliance ….Mr. Miller, despite years of effort, has not been able to come into compliance with these regulations….I can’t believe that these regulations are so difficult that he can’t come into compliance. I just don’t understand.” He then asked Miller’s lawyers, “Can he come into compliance?”
I’ve attended three of these hearings over the years, and have always been impressed with Judge Smith’s patience, and inclination to push the parties toward some kind of compromise. But in a very real sense, the parties have been talking past each other. Amos Miller sees himself serving hundreds of individuals who have signed on to being members of the private food clubs he helped set up—not dealing with any retail distributors and assuming responsibility if there were any safety issues. He committed to trying to cater to their dietary requirements, such as obtaining eggs that haven’t been fed soy feed or meat that has been slaughtered without citric acid. Sometimes, Miller represents himself at these hearings. Other times, he has one or more lawyers. But the inconsistency and absence of an overall legal strategy has clearly cost him big time.
I know a number of members have encouraged Miller to try to placate the USDA by having his animals slaughtered in USDA facilities. But others have encouraged him to hold fast to his food principles and stay with on-farm slaughtering. Having been a member of one of his food clubs, in the Boston area, for a dozen years, I’ve followed his seemingly endless saga via his newsletters and conversations with him about his legal problems, and I agree with Elizabeth Rich, that it’s not about the money or arrogance. He truly believes in the integrity of the food he produces and in directly serving the members of his private food club.
What will he do next? He says in his latest newsletter to members out today that he is discussing legal options with lawyers he has recently engaged, as well as planning to sell all remaining meat in stock within the next 60 days, as ordered. He adds: “The bigger hurdle that the farm has to overcome is the large $250,000 fine that USDA is imposing on the farm. We are extremely saddened by this. For many years, our members enjoyed our grass-fed meat items, and according to the comments that we get, the members are getting extremely good benefits from our meats. So, the question remains, are we doing something right or wrong given that the government has been pounding at us to discontinue what we’ve been doing for quite some time…. According to the USDA, the fine needs to be paid in 30 days, which would be by approximately Aug. 22nd or more fines could occur. It is certainly not our wish to ask for more donations to cover these expenses, but standing up for the truth such as requesting citric acid free meats, etc., is what has brought us into this legal battle and it is not coming for free. If the members can help us overcome this hurdle and assist us with this fine, that would be appreciated. To make a donation, you may send a payment to Miller’s Organic Farm at 648 Millcreek School Rd., Bird-in-Hand, PA 17505. If you have any questions, our phone number is 717-556-0672, or if you would like to do it online, please click here for our gofundme page.
“#1 – If you can make a donation of $1,000 or more, the farm will put this amount on a special guest member list and then 50% of these funds can be returned to you in the year of 2022 in the form of a food credit on your invoice, plus the farm will make an extra effort to fulfill your needs of specialty item list, such as liver glands, etc., whatever your needs may be. Please call the farm if you have any questions regarding this plan.
“#2 – If you can make a donation of $500, then this will be put on a special member list and then 50% of the funds can be returned to you in the form of a food credit in the year of 2022. Please call the farm if you wish to obtain any of these plans or if you have any questions regarding this.
“As you may know, any amount of donation is always helpful, and no matter how much you may be able to help, I want to let you know that all of you as our members are always special and dear to our hearts. Our goal here at the farm is to help you fulfill your need of nutrient-dense foods. I feel if we can overcome this hurdle of having this fine paid, that we can continue fulfilling your needs of citric acid free meats. Once our existing inventory is liquidated, which we hope to have done by the middle of September, then we hope to be approved to process fresh meats. We will do our best to make this happen.”
Amos Miller has been in tough regulatory situations before, and found ways to survive. Hopefully, he’ll survive this latest run-in with the regulators, and many hundreds of members, myself included, can continue receiving his wonderful eggs, meat, and dairy products.
I’d say helping pay his fine is the strongest statement supporters can make on his behalf at this point. After all, how many times has a conventional food producer accused of unsafe food production practices been able to raise thousands of dollars of support directly from regular consumers of their products? Probably never.