At one point at Tuesday’s three-hour hearing about whether agents should be allowed to inspect Amos Miller’s Pennsylvania farm, federal judge Edward Smith made this pronouncement: “Government is at its best when it is sensitive to the people’s needs.”
At another point, the judge, an appointee of President Obama, who has been a U.S. District Court judge for just two years, looked out over the crowd of about 20 Miller supporters in attendance, and said, “Obviously, this is something that is important to a lot of people.”
An inspection official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, testified the agency has “no desire to close” Miller’s Organic Farm. The official, Troy Hambright, added in response to a question that the federal case against Miller “is not a criminal case.”
A USDA inspector, Paul Flanagan, said he wasn’t necessarily seeking to make problems for Miller, but rather to “educate him about safety.”
After all the soothing talk, Judge Smith surprised many of those in attendance when he concluded the hearing by granting the USDA’s request to carry out an inspection of Miller’s facilities; Miller had on two occasions refused to allow inspectors to carry out an inspection, unless they joined his private association, which they refused to do.
Helping convince Judge Smith was a team of at least three lawyers, including from the USDA, the FDA, and the U.S. Justice Department. A lawyer from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was also understood to be present; because the lawyers didn’t all identify themselves during the proceedings, it wasn’t always clear who was who.
Amos Miller acted as his own lawyer, questioning witnesses and the judge. Judge Smith patiently answered Miller’s questions, though he warned the farmer that statements he made in court “could be used against you” in the future.
Inspector Flanagan testified during the hearing that he would be seeking Miller’s sanitation records, veterinary records about animals’ health, information about the cleanliness of the water supply, and pest control records affecting the animals, among other things.
Government attorneys questioning the inspectors and two members of Miller’s private association made clear they saw no distinction between a private association and the public. “Private is public,” said Flanagan.
The inspectors talked about their concerns about the dangers of listeria and possible “cross contamination” between raw milk and meat products distributed by Miller. Judge Smith, however, repeatedly warned all witnesses that the hearing “is not about raw milk,” but rather about meat laws.
One of Miller’s witnesses, a Pennsylvania mother of nine and a member of Miller’s private association, said two of her children are autistic, and have benefited significantly from raw milk consumption. But a government lawyer from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration focused on the fact that the woman had ordered milk from Miller while she was living in Florida before moving to Pennsylvania. That, the lawyer indicated, suggested Miller was violating prohibitions on shipping raw milk across state lines.
This witness, along with a second association member, said it was up to the members to regulate Miller, not the government.
It’s not clear when the USDA agents will begin their inspection of Miller’s farm, but presumably it will happen very soon, given the effort they went through to gain inspection authority.
(Information for this post came from several attendees at the hearing, who didn’t want to be identified.)