Raw milk for pickup at a private-food drop site.

The U.S. Justice Department has set a May 19 deadline for Miller’s Organic Farm to accept inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and is ignoring his peace offer.

If owner Amos Miller fails to allow inspection of his facilities by the deadline, the U.S. Justice Department “will be forced to initiate enforcement proceedings,” it said in a recent letter to the Pennsylvania farmer. While the Justice Department didn’t say exactly what it plans, presumably it will seek either an injunction of some kind, or a similar action, which would ostensibly restrict sales of Miller’s food and impose severe fines or raids for violation of a court order.

Miller responded last week by telephoning both DOJ and and USDA officials who have been in touch with him, and trying to defuse the situation. He offered to let a USDA agent inspect his facilities if the government agent signs his private membership agreement. “If he wants to become a member, I can take him through the facilities,” Miller told me.

The agent refused, without giving a reason. The agent’s refusal goes to the heart of the stakes in the government assault on Miller’s Farm. If a government agent signs on in that capacity, he could be seen as extending what amounts to official recognition of private food distribution. It seems clear that no government agent is prepared to do that, since the government’s clear intent is to use the highly questionable (or fraudulent, as some might say) CDC report of illnesses attributed to Miller’s as an excuse to do away with Miller’s, and threaten all similar private food distribution.

Regardless of which agency takes the legal lead, the government’s intent is to challenge Miller’s on the basis of safety rather than the legitimacy of private food distribution. Government lawyers know that it will be much easier to convince a judge to enforce an injunction or similar legal device based on fear-mongering than on the legal aspects of private membership associations.

For now, at least, the government seems inclined to avoid a raid or other aggressive action that would play badly in the media, since any agency could long ago have obtained a search warrant and forcibly carried out the examination of Miller’s facilities. That’s not to say a raid won’t happen after the May 19 deadline imposed by DOJ.

The concept behind private membership associations is difficult for many people to fully comprehend, so complete has been the dominance of a publicly regulated food system, and the propaganda promoting it as our sole “safe” food-distribution option. The big picture is that Amos Miller (and many other small farmers) sell in the private domain. That is, they sell directly to individuals who contract with the farmers via private membership agreements, and the amount of food distributed this way is expanding.

These farmers don’t have permits of any kind, and thus operate entirely outside the public retail/wholesale structure through which nearly all American (and Canadian) food is distributed. In the view of the farmers and their members, the private domain is protected by our constitution, and by a fair amount of case law, protecting freedom of association and the sanctity of contracts.

The FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration), CDFA (California Department of Food and Agriculture), PDA (Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture), USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), and all the other alphabet regulatory agencies HATE the private domain, because they don’t have power and control there. This dispute is all about power and control, and not about safety, as much as the agencies argue otherwise. These agencies want to drag Amos Miller and other private distributors into the public domain, where the agencies can limit what is produced (no raw kefir, butter, cream, yogurt in the public domain, outside of California) and where individuals can obtain their food (no deliveries direct from the farm).

It should be understood that raw dairy producers like Organic Pastures Dairy Co. in California and The Family Cow in Pennsylvania and many other farms in states that regulate raw dairy have committed themselves fully to the public sector, by virtue of obtaining permits and thereby agreeing to regular inspections of their facilities by regulatory agents. And many of these producers have learned to adjust to that realm, and do fine.

For years, the alphabet agencies have held off, in significant measure, on going after Amos Miller and other private distributors, because they know what our constitution allows in the private sphere, and they don’t want a lengthy court case challenging efforts at control. They have one case in their favor—the one in which the FDA obtained a permanent injunction against Pennsylvania dairy farmer Daniel Allgyer in 2012; however, that was a decision by a single judge against a farmer without legal representation.  A Wisconsin jury’s decision in 2013 acquitting farmer Vernon Hershberger of violating the state’s dairy and retail laws by selling privately carries no official legal weight beyond his situation; however, it frightens federal and state regulators that a jury or judge could rule  against the government, and legitimize private food rights. Without clear case law on food in the private sphere, the regulators can keep everything muddy, and that’s what they’ve chosen to do.

So the alphabet agencies have latched onto the CDC study that blames Miller’s for causing two illnesses he may well have had nothing to with, as the basis for crushing our access to private food. These agencies see a huge opportunity in this manufactured crisis. Miller’s will no doubt need lots of support to defend itself, and to defend us all.