Miller's Organic Farm in Upper Leacock

This file photo from 2016 shows Miller's Organic Farm in Upper Leacock Township.

A Lancaster County farmer who's been at odds with the federal government over meat and poultry inspections says a court ruling this week allows him the ability to still sell his products.

The U.S. Department of Justice sued Miller’s Organic Farm in April, contending the Upper Leacock Township farm — which describes itself as a private club that sells only to members — was selling unsafe food nationwide to consumers. The Justice Department contends the products weren't federally inspected.

Miller's had claimed that because it was a members-only club, it was exempt from federal regulations.

Judge Edward G. Smith ruled Tuesday that such associations must follow the law.

In a news release Wednesday announcing the ruling, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain said the government "will continue to take enforcement action whenever commercial sellers ignore the rule of law, make up their own sets of rules, or otherwise attempt to hide behind a business structure to thwart congressionally mandated federal oversight."

Owner Amos Miller said Thursday the ruling allows him the ability to continue selling meat and poultry.

Smith is "not forcing us to do federal inspection. We're going to try to work with (regulators) on a custom exemption" for butchering, Miller said.

The court's ruling allows a custom exemption and says, essentially, that Miller must either allow federal inspection or qualify for an exemption.

The farm currently doesn't meet exemption.

Miller said becoming a federally inspected facility would mean inspectors must be present when animals are butchered. That's twice a week.

He estimated that would cost about $50,000 to $100,000 and would likely force his business to close.

An exemption, as he said he understood it, would mean a single annual inspection.

The court's order allows the farm to sell its existing supply of meat and poultry to members over the next two months.

Miller estimated he has about 400 to 500 customers a week. That figure includes all customers, not just those buying meat or poultry.

The farm sells a range of products, from raw milk to fermented vegetables to meat and poultry.

Miller said the farm typically butchers two to three cattle a week and the same number of pigs. It slaughters about 8,000 to 9,000 chickens annually.

In his ruling, Smith said, "There is a cognizable danger that, based on the defendants’ past and continuing conduct, they will, unless restrained by order of this court, continue to violate" food safety laws.

The government said this is the first suit in which federal food safety inspectors got a ruling against a private membership association farm business to enforce food safety laws.