A Lancaster County farmer long at odds with the federal government over food safety inspection laws has continued to sell meat and poultry in violation of an April 2020 consent decree, according to federal prosecutors.
As a result, Miller’s Organic Farm in Upper Leacock Township has been ordered to appear in court Wednesday to show why it shouldn’t be held in contempt of that consent decree.
Owner Amos Miller has shown a “singular, historic willingness to flout democratically enacted federal food safety laws … ” prosecutors said.
According to the prosecutors’ filings in federal court last week, a U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service investigator said that during a May visit to Miller’s farm, he learned Miller had stopped taking his meat and poultry to a federally inspected slaughterhouse and was instead slaughtering at the farm, which isn’t approved as a slaughterhouse.
The farm’s attorney, Steven Lafuente of Dallas, Texas, acknowledged Monday that, technically, Miller was in violation of the consent decree, but hopes things can be worked out at the hearing before U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith in Easton.
“The idea isn’t to say, he didn’t do it, but to say: ‘I did it, but I have a good reason for doing so,’” he said.
Lafuente said the slaughterhouse Miller had been using didn’t have the capacity to accommodate his needs, chalking the issue up to growing pains for the farm.
“He was using a federally inspected facility he has no control of,” Lafuente said.
Claims of exemption
Miller’s has previously held itself out as a private club that sells only to members and it claimed it was exempt from federal regulations.
Lafuente said Miller has come around to the reasons for the government’s rules, and while he may believe they shouldn’t apply to him on First Amendment grounds, now isn’t the time to make that case. For now, Lafuente said, Miller wants to work out a suitable arrangement that would allow him to get rid of meat and poultry the government wants to seize from the May visit.
Miller also didn’t have records indicating the age of cattle associated with two heads that inspectors took possession of.
In 2004, following outbreaks of mad cow disease, the Food Safety and Inspection Service determined that certain parts from cattle 30 months and older, including the brain, spinal cord and eyes, were unfit for human consumption.
Lafuente said the age of the cattle in question would be a fact issue at the hearing.
“How do you prove how old a cow is?” he said.
Another reason Miller said he stopped going to the approved slaughterhouse was that it used a citric acid rinse to help prevent the growth of harmful organisms, the filing said; Miller said his members disapprove of the chemical rinse.
The investigator, Paul Flanagan, told Miller there are other approved antimicrobial reduction methods.
After Miller asked Flanagan if he should stop slaughtering the chickens his workers were slaughtering that day, Flanagan told him that he didn’t have the authority to stop him, but that if Miller continued, he’d be in violation of the consent decree and the government would detain the items being slaughtered, the filing said.
“Mr. Miller then told me ‘I would not want to be you,’ and ‘you need to be careful.’ When I asked him to clarify those comments, he stated ‘I am telling my members to call you, and they are not going to be happy when I tell them you are taking their food away from them,’” according to the filing.
Miller also told Flanagan, “this food is their medicine and you will be responsible if they become sick,” the filing said. And Miller told Flanagan he would continue to slaughter “if I am allowed or if it is what my members want. It is up to my members.”
Feds seek to seize meat
On Monday, the government filed court documents seeking to seize and condemn about 650 pounds of beef carcasses and heads, 600 pounds of hog carcasses and 1,850 pounds of chicken and chicken parts it detained during the May visit — action the government sought in 2020.
As part of the 2020 consent decree, Miller was given rigid guidelines allowing him to sell some of the roughly 34,000 pounds of meat and poultry the government had seized in 2019. The government was authorized to destroy what wasn’t sold in the allotted time.
According to the court filing related to the contempt hearing, Miller faces fines of $500 a pound for adulterated or misbranded meat or poultry that has no records or inadequate records and he faces fines of $2,500 for restricting access to inspectors for a first violation and $5,000 for subsequent violations.
Miller was also warned last October that he was in violation of the consent decree based on the Food Safety and Inspection Service findings between June and September, according to the filing.
Miller’s came to the attention of federal authorities in 2015, when the Food and Drug Administration identified Listeria in samples of Miller’s raw milk and found it to be genetically similar to the bacteria in two people who developed listeriosis — one of whom died — after consuming raw milk.
The agency subsequently wanted to find out if the bacteria might be contaminating Miller’s meat and poultry products, the justice department said in a news release announcing its lawsuit against Miller’s in April 2019, which led to the consent decree.