Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm must appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley on July 18 for a settlement conference about whether the operation is subject to federal food safety laws, according to court documents.
Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm, based in Bird-in-Hand, PA, were named on April 4 as defendants in a 97-page civil complaint by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Miller is accused of selling meat and poultry products — which are misbranded and have not been federally inspected — to consumers throughout the United States.
The civil action is the latest attempt by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to get the man called an “ethical Amish farmer” on his Gofundme page to comply with some of the federal government’s primary food safety laws and regulations.
Miller responded to the lengthy complaint with a one-page hand-written statement on April 26.
“Defendants Answer the Complaint as Follows: We do not have legal counsel yet. We are looking for representation. We reserve the right to amend this answer after counsel is retained. The defendants deny all allegations in the complaint and ask the court to dismiss this action,” Miller’s letter to the court says. Miller continues to represent himself and Miller’s Organic Farm in the matter.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward G. Smith did not dismiss the case, nor did he grant Miller’s request for a continuance before the initial pretrial conference on June 13.
U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain in April said that his office filed the civil lawsuit to enjoin Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm “from continuing to violate federal food safety laws.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerald Sullivan is pursuing this case on behalf of the United States.
McSwain filed the court action on behalf of the FSIS. It is the USDA agency responsible for ensuring that commercially sold meat, poultry, and some egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. A principal way FSIS fulfills its mission is by inspecting meat and poultry products before they reach consumers.
The civil lawsuit is only the latest federal action to bring Miller’s into compliance with federal food safety laws. In 2015, Miller’s was named as the likely source of raw milk infections from Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono). Two patients suffering from listeriosis were associated with Miller’s raw milk through whole genome sequencing of the bacterium.
In a follow-up, FSIS sought to assess whether L. mono might be contaminating Miller’s meat and poultry products. But Miller refused to grant FSIS entry to the farm’s meat and poultry related facilities, even after the agency served him with a subpoena.
The government says Miller “erroneously contended that, as a self-organized private membership association,” he is beyond the reach of federal food safety regulations. The United States then sued Miller’s in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to enforce the subpoena and USDA’s access rights to his business under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).
After the court enforced the subpoena, FSIS cited Miller’s operation with FMIA and PPIA misbranding and other violations, which have since continued.
This is believed to be the first-ever suit of its kind where FSIS is seeking an injunction against a so-called “private membership association” farm business to enforce food safety laws.
McSwain said with the current lawsuit, food establishments in this District “are on further notice that my office will not ignore efforts to evade federal food safety laws and to hinder agencies like FSIS from carrying out their public safety missions.”
“We will not allow commercial sellers to ignore the rule of law, make up their own sets of rules, and attempt to hide behind a private-membership-association structure to thwart federal laws,” according to McSwain. “Congress enacted food safety laws to ensure that the nation’s food supply is safe, wholesome, and properly labeled and packaged. It’s our job to enforce those democratically enacted laws, which we will do in this case.”
In specific reference to the Miller case, FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg said” “Flagrant failure to meet the regulations will not be tolerated.”
As for his Gofundme page, 370 of Miller’s friends raised $24,138 towards a $15,000 goal to purchase new milk bottling machine. They said Miller needed the bottling machine to obtain raw milk permits from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
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