The regulatory news is becoming ever more ominous for Amos Miller, the Amish Pennsylvania farmer who serves many hundreds of food club members around the country with fresh dairy and meat products. Or maybe not.
It’s tough to be sure about the timing and nature of the difficulties he’s facing as a result of demands by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the farm be shuttered via a permanent injunction because it insists on providing its meat directly from the farm, outside USDA-mandated inspection.
The buzzards are definitely circling, beginning with the USDA. It has the services of the U.S. Justice Department and a very aggressive U.S. Attorney trying like heck to shut Miller down.
And Food Safety News has been joining in on the fun. In a late-October article reporting that the USDA is seeking a permanent injunction to shutter Miller’s Organic Farm, it stated: “The United States began its current round with Miller in April. This time it just wants a federal judge to acknowledge that Miller ‘cannot genuinely dispute’ that he and the organic farm are violating the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act. Miller, after all, distributes misbranded, non-federally inspected meat and poultry products and obstructed USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) oversight of Miller’s Organic Farm’s meat and poultry operations.”
The judge may not be fully cooperating in the fun-fest. In a report to members earlier this month, Miller indicated he’s trying his hardest to shoo the buzzards away, suggesting that the federal judge overseeing the case, Edward Smith, is showing signs of flexibility and encouraging some kind of compromise. According to Miller, “The USDA/FSIS government inspection group….was hoping that Federal Judge Edward Smith would grant them an injunction against Miller’s Organic Farm, meaning we would stop selling our meat without having a Federal license plant facility, meaning an inspector would have to be on site everyday that processing and packaging meat is taking place at the farm. Applying for a federal license is an extreme burden on a small scale like we are here. The paperwork, HASSUP plans, etc. & equipment that are required you could say are brutal. If I’m not mistaken, a local federal plant just got set up a year ago had an approximate cost of $200,000 to $300,000, which is an extreme amount for a small-scale operation like we have here. The good news is that the ruling Judge Smith made on Nov. 12th is not requiring us to set up a federal license plant here at the farm.
“So, then USDA was hoping to get a ruling from the Judge for us to go to the local federal plant, but I expressed my concerns to the judge that they do not have the ability to keep special parts of the animals such as brains, etc. and also they (his food club members) don’t like the idea of processing meats without any solutionized, rinsed preservatives, which most of our members do not want because of preservative sensitive reactions that our members have. So, the good news again is the judge is not requiring us to do that either. He rather asked the USDA if they are willing to work with us on a custom exemption facility, which is what we have been negotiating with the USDA the past few months. So far they weren’t willing to accommodate our needs, but at this time when the judge asked them, they did say ‘yes.’ We’ll see how they’ll do on that.
“What custom exemption means is that our members would agree to own a share in our animals or flock of chickens, etc. Then we would supply you the service of processing and packaging the meat rather than selling the meat itself….”
Miller also reported “some very intense negative news that is coming with the court order that USDA has gotten the judge to enforce upon our farm…..Although the judge acknowledged that he feels he doesn’t need to shut us down, that we have an important business in place where members are dependent on our foods and he also acknowledged that we do have a clean record, meaning nobody has filed a complaint regarding food quality which we are grateful for. But for some reason, USDA/FSIS has little to no respect regarding that. In the meantime, until we are able to work out the details of the custom exemption, according to the court order, they are coming very likely with full force. In 60 days, which would be around the middle of January, they would have the right to seize or fine Miller’s Organic Farm for selling meat products. This is a great concern to us because we know how many of our members depend on our chemical-free, citric acid-free, preservative-free meats. Many of our members have come to us as their meat supply for this reason.”
As a result, Miller is encouraging his food club members to write in with stories and examples of how his farm’s meat, produced without caustic chemicals present at USDA facilities, has helped their health. Letters can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where will this all end up? It’s hard to know. Amos Miller has survived numerous federal attacks on his operation. The current legal assault has been going on for more than three years. My guess is he will work out some kind of compromise, either an exemption or via use of a USDA facility. I sure hope so. The buzzards are getting a little too close for comfort.