A Lancaster County farmer accused of repeatedly shirking food safety laws was found in contempt of court this week, when a federal judge ruled that he’d violated an earlier court order by selling meat that was processed outside of a federally inspected slaughterhouse.
The Upper Leacock Township farm’s owner, Amos Miller, is now awaiting related civil penalties, which will be negotiated in the coming days, said Miller’s Texas-based attorney, Steven Lafuente.
“It was rather expected,” Lafuente said of the outcome.
On Thursday, Lafuente said his goal now is to negotiate for penalties — fines or other legal agreements — that are “appropriate but won’t put the lights out” at Miller’s Organic Farm, the farmer’s poultry and livestock operation.
At the farm on Mill Creek School Road, Miller has shown a “singular, historic willingness to flout democratically enacted federal food safety laws,” prosecutors have said.
That’s a reference to past violations dating back to at least 2015.
The contempt of court ruling, which was handed down Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Edward G. Smith in Easton, stemmed from an inspection of the farm carried out by U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators last month.
In May, investigators visited the farm to check that the operation was in compliance with food safety laws and previous legal agreements, but found that it was not, according to prosecutors’ court filings.
Miller told investigators that he had stopped taking his poultry and livestock to be processed at a federally inspected slaughterhouse, prosecutors said. Instead, animals were being processed in-house at the farm, which does not have regulatory approval to operate as a slaughterhouse, they said.
The self-processing was a violation of an earlier legal agreement — a consent decree reached in 2020 after an earlier violation — that stipulated Miller would follow food safety laws, said prosecutors, who pointed out that the farmer also failed to maintain required animal-related records.
The judge agreed, issuing the Wednesday decision that Miller was in contempt.
Miller had argued that he had to slaughter his own animals because the federally inspected slaughterhouse couldn’t keep up with his needs, Lafuente said. Miller also argued that certain products used at the slaughterhouse to process his animals don’t meet the high standards of his customers, who demand untainted, all-natural products.
At least one of those customers is so passionate about those standards that she called out after Judge Smith issued his decision at the Wednesday hearing, Lafuente said.
“It was very lively. I looked at it as a protest,” he said, adding that the judge allowed the outburst and even spoke, back and forth, with the customer. “She was very animated.”
In part, it’s the attitudes of those loyal customers who have kept Miller from seeking to legitimize his operation through efforts like pursuing necessary slaughterhouse certifications, Lafuente said.
“They want nothing to do with federal government regulation,” the attorney said.
In addition to negotiating prospective penalties with prosecutors, Lafuente said Thursday that he hopes to work toward a deal related to 3,100 pounds of meat — beef, pork and chicken — that federal regulators hope to seize and condemn.
So far, federal officials have been “very reasonable,” he said.