A seemingly minor request last March by U.S. Department of Agriculture agents to inspect Amos Miller’s Pennsylvania farm has exploded into a full-court press on private food rights.
Justice Department lawyers argue in more than 60 pages of briefs designed to convince a federal judge to order Miller to accept the inspection, that previous raw milk cases, in which judges ruled against farmers, serve as precedent that there is no such thing as contractual food rights. “There is no exception of the (federal) commerce power for the sorts of transactions between ‘private’ individuals that Mr. Miller has described,” says one “Memorandum of Law” supporting a court order against Miller. “Nor is there an exception for activities that only incidentally affect commerce. Rather, Congress’ commerce power is expansive, even permitting government regulation of products that are produced and consumed wholly within one’s home—as long as there is some nexus to interstate commerce.” In other words, if you produce an apple pie that uses baking powder from outside your state, and want to sell that pie in a neighboring state’s bake sale, you are subject to federal regulation.
The USDA’s request that a federal court issue an order forcing an inspection of Miller’s Organic Farm is to be heard at 1:30 pm next Tuesday (June 28) in Easton, PA,
While at first glance, the June 28 hearing at federal court in Easton, PA, is simply about forcing Miller to cooperate with that inspection, a look through the 62 pages of legal documents filed by the USDA make clear that the government intends to use this action against Miller as a full-fledged legal assault on private food rights, per the following:
- While the USDA is ostensibly the plaintiff, this case is clearly a joint effort by the USDA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. For instance, in a “declaration” by one USDA investigator, Paul Flanagan, he provides a chronology of his efforts to inspect Miller’s Organic Farm, and refers to FDA warnings about raw milk, while also noting that he and a fellow USDA agent were joined in their investigation of Miller’s by PDA agents.
- This case was sparked in significant measure by the March 18 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control alleging that Miller’s milk was responsible for a “multistate outbreak” that killed a Florida woman and sickened a California man back in 2014. This despite the fact that the Florida woman who died was apparently being treated for advanced cancer, and that the man who got sick had other medical conditions that hampered his immune system.
- The government’s court filings in this case read like well researched legal briefs for a major case, even though this is only about obtaining a court order to force Miller to accept a USDA inspection. One “Memorandum of Law” quotes Miller’s arguments at length on behalf of a private realm for food distribution, and counters them with detailed references to legal precedent in the form of other court opinions. Prime among these precedents are suits involving raw milk dairies over the last eight years—the federal case against Amish farmer Daniel Allgyer, the case against Meadowsweet Dairy in New York, and a case involving several Wisconsin raw dairy farmers. “An individual cannot exempt himself from the reach of federal law through the use of private contracts,” the memo states, in arguing that Miller is subject to a federal meat and poultry act that requires at least periodic USDA inspection. “Such attempts run afoul of well-established law that a contract entered in violation of federal statutory or regulatory law is unenforceable.”
In a court “declaration,” USDA compliance inspector Paul Flanagan seeks to raise the fear component around the case: “The CDC web posting was concerning because, at approximately the same time that I learned about the web posting, I also learned that Miller’s Organic Farm was slaughtering, processing and selling meat, meat food products, poultry, and poultry food products.”
Flanagan says he became concerned about more than just possible meat contamination. The CDC report “raised public health risk concerns about possible cross-contamination from raw milk to poultry and meat and related products that are produced and sold at the farm.”
Flanagan concludes his statement by arguing that a court order is all that will get Miller to cooperate: “Absent a legal enforcement proceeding and an appropriate order by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Mr. Miller will continue to deny FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of USDA) officials access to his facility and records, and will thereby continue to prevent FSIS from fulfilling its public safety mission to ensure that meat and poultry products are wholesome and unadulterated and that appropriate statutory and regulatory requirements are met.”
In other words, the federal government is arguing not only that private food sales can be regulated under the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, but that even without that, Miller’s food presents serious safety risks.
Amos Miller seems prepared, at this point, to represent himself in this case. The Amish in general, and Amish farmers in particular, avoid conflict of all types, and shy away from engaging lawyers to defend them in formal legal cases.
It seems clear the feds now view Miller much the same as they came to view Dan Allgyer five years ago—as an Amish farmer unlikely to mount a sophisticated legal defense, and thus easy pickings for their Princeton and Harvard-trained prosecutors. In that case, a federal court in Pennsylvania approved a permanent injunction barring Allgyer from serving food clubs outside Pennsylvania, after which he decided to quit farming. It also seems clear that once the feds convince the federal judge to issue the order forcing the inspection, the inspectors will almost certainly find that Miller violated any number of regulations, and push for severe restrictions on the farm’s operation, or even the farm’s shutdown. That will have the effect of depriving many hundreds of people around the country of food they have come to depend on for maintaining their health.
Amos Miller has asked that supporters of food rights assemble peacefully at his hearing next week in Easton—1:30 pm at 101 Larry Holmes Drive.