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Feds trying to seize raw camel milk suspected in interstate case

Federal officials are attempting to seize more than $70,000 in raw camel milk products stored in a warehouse in Kansas City, KS, including some bearing labels from a Missouri dairy, because they were allegedly shipped in interstate commerce in violation of federal law.

In an action filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, KS, the Department of Justice states that inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration estimate about 4,300 8- and 16-ounce bottles of frozen camel milk, colostrum and kefir are stored in the My Magic Kitchen Inc. refrigerated warehouse.

More than 3,800 of the bottles contain raw camel milk and products made from it, which sell for $10 to $18 on the internet. A few hundred of the bottles contain pasteurized camel milk products. Kansas does not have any licensed camel dairy operations. If it did, sales of raw camel milk/products would be limited to “on-farm” scenarios. Kansas law prohibits retail sales and herd share sales of unpasteurized milk.

The Kansas Department of Agriculture embargoed the products in question in August.

Illegal interstate commerce isn’t the only problem with the camel milk products stored at My Magic Kitchen warehouse. They are also considered “new drugs” under federal law because of health claims made on their labels and on the website of Desert Farms Inc., a California company that contracts with a network of raw camel milk producers across the country.

All of the camel milk products in the Kansas City, KS, warehouse carry Desert Farms labels, according to court documents. Some of them also have labels from Hump-Back Dairys of Miller, MO, and/or other locations outside of the state of Kansas, according to the government’s complaint.

“The My Magic Kitchen warehouse manager was unable to produce shipping records identifying the location from which the raw camel milk products were shipped, but stickers on certain of their shipping packages state “Hump-Back Dairys … Miller, MO,” which is consistent with the results of FDA’s inspection of Hump-Back Dairys,” according to the federal court complaint, which said records show there are no licensed camel milk manufacturers in Kansas.

“Based on the foregoing information and investigation, on information and belief, all of the raw camel milk products located at My Magic Kitchen were shipped in interstate commerce to Kansas,” the complaint states.

Desert Farms on notice for 13 months
Both Desert Farms and Hump-Back Dairys have been on the FDA’s radar screen in the past year.

In September 2016 the FDA sent a warning letter to Walid Abdul-Wahab of Santa Monica, CA, threatening to seize his Desert Farms camel milk products because of illegal health claims on the products’ labels. In 2015 Abdul-Wahab told CBNC that he had 100,000 customers nationwide.

Statements on the Desert Farms website and the company’s Facebook page are specifically cited in the 2016 warning letter. As of Oct. 3 this year, the statements were still on the Desert Farms website and multiple social media pages, according to the Justice Department complaint.

“Claims on these sites demonstrate that the camel milk products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, including autism, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, viral infections such as hepatitis, the genetic disorder Machado-Joseph, depression, gastrointestinal diseases, heart problems, attention deficit disorder, autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s disease, and cancer,” according to court documents.

The FDA warning letter 13 months ago put it bluntly.

“Your products are not generally recognized as safe and effective for the above referenced uses,” the FDA warning letter stated. “Your … products are intended for treatment of one or more diseases that are not amenable to self-diagnosis or treatment without the supervision of a licensed practitioner.”

Some of the Desert Farms camel milk products the government wants to seize — both pasteurized and unpasteurized —  are also considered misbranded food under the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act, according to the complaint.

The government contends the product labels are false and misleading in that “the shipping containers bear stickers that state the articles are intended for further processing although they are packaged in 16-ounce consumer-sized bottles and bear consumer nutrition facts labels.”

Hump-Back Dairys warned 10 months ago
Three months after the FDA warned the Desert Farms owner, the agency sent a warning letter to Samuel P. Hostetler, owner of Hump-Back Dairys in Miller, MO. The dairy farmer was openly selling unpasteurized camel milk across state lines, in violation of federal law, contending the law doesn’t apply to milk from camels.

FDA inspectors checked Hostetler’s operation in July 2016 and found records showing the dairy had distributed unpasteurized, raw camel milk and raw camel milk products across state lines.

This farm in Lancaster county, PA, is one of a handful of camel milking operations in the United States. Photo by Dreamstime

“Such distribution is a violation of  the Public Health Service Act,” according to the warning letter. “…We have reviewed the correspondence letter dated Sept. 19, 2016, from Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. The letter, which states that it is written on your behalf, raises questions about whether the regulation in 21 CFR 1240.61(a) applies to products such as yours that are made from the lacteal secretions of camels.

“Under 21 CFR 1240.3(j), the term ‘milk product’ is defined as ‘food products made exclusively or principally from the lacteal secretion obtained from one or more healthy milk-producing animals, e.g., cows, goats, sheep, and water buffalo.’ … Although the definition refers to the examples of cows, goats, sheep, and water buffalo, that list is not exhaustive. The definition thus includes the commercial lacteal secretions from other animals as well, including camels.”

Hostetler eventually told the FDA he would stop selling his raw milk across state lines. As of yesterday, the federal agency had not issued a close-out letter, meaning the interstate sales issues discussed in the warning letter have not yet been resolved.

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