Opinion

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service sometimes profiles its employees on the job to help the public understand the agency’s complex mission. Two FSIS employees who merit profiles are Paul Flanagan and Scott C. Safian.

They are both officers with the FSIS Office of Investigation, Enforcement, and Audit (OIEA). They have what may be the most flustrating food safety jobs in America — bringing Amos Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm into compliance with the food safety laws and the food safety regulations of America.

The real Amos Miller has finally come to light because of the work of Flanagan and Safian.

In late June, Miller was found in Contempt of the Court for violating an April 2020 Consent Decree, and the Court’s November 2019 Injunction.

And Judge Edward G. Smith isn’t allowing Miller to ignore this Court’s order. Miller is up against a 30-day deadline to pay a $250,000 fine for contempt and to reimburse $14,436.26 to FSIS for the recent investigative work by Flanagan and Safian.  If he ignores this court order, as he has so often in the past, a stay at the Greybar Hotel aka prison will likely be in Miller’s near-term future.

When all this began sometime before 2016, Miller, by some food freedom activists, was said to be just a simple Amish farmer protecting the religion’s butchering methods. That was an insult to Amish farmers who do comply with USDA regulations.

Court actions during the past six years or more have shown there is nothing simple about Amos Miller and his finances.

Miller’s Organic Farm is Miller’s “alter ego” and files its tax returns under Miller’s name, according to the long factual record that’s been put together by the FSIS investigators.

Miller’s “private membership association” is a buyer’s club whose members do not share in the farm’s profits or have voting rights in decisions about the farm’s business and that:

  • has a decision-making “board” comprising only Miller and his wife;
  •  conditions membership solely on an individual’s signing a membership contract and paying a small one-time fee; and
  • does not screen members for their views or beliefs.

At least until the Injunction Order, Miller’s sold its meat and poultry products only to Miller’s private membership association members, including to food Cooperatives that participated or were otherwise members in Miller’s private membership association.

Miller’s fulfilled telephone, email, fax, and internet orders by itself transporting—or by arranging delivery services to transport—purchased products.

Instead, the farming operation that Miller runs from Bird-in-Hand, PA, is shown to be “significant and interstate” with interstate sales of meat, poultry, and other food products.

“In addition to his original Bird-in-Hand, PA, farm, Mr. Miller owns an adjoining farm that he purchased for $1.45 million in September 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Miller testified that he financed $1.4 million of the purchase price. He thus apparently put down $500,000 at the time of purchase last year,” according to court documents.

Also disclosed is Miller’s 50 percent co-ownership of Burke’s Garden Farms in Tazewell, VA. He purchased ownership of the Virginia farm in 2015 for $2.5 million.

Miller has a $200,000 line of credit and is currently making “significant capital improvements” at the Bird-In-Hand farm, including a large building to accommodate his daughters’ upcoming weddings. Miller testified building for the weddings will cost $100,000 to $200,000.

The injunction from the Department of Justice (DOJ) found:

  • Amos Miller and his wife owned and operated Miller’s, an unincorporated business located at 648 Mill Creek School Road, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania;
  •  at its farm site, Miller’s had been slaughtering livestock or poultry, and then preparing, processing, storing, and /or distributing meat, meat food products, and poultry products;
  •  Miller’s meat, meat food products, and poultry products sold for commercial purposes and human consumption to consumers in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States;
  •  federal inspection is required at such an establishment that slaughters livestock or poultry and then prepares or processes amenable meat, meat food products, or poultry products that are capable of use as human food for interstate or foreign commerce unless the establishment qualifies for an exemption from federal inspection;
  •  Miller’s had been operating its meat and poultry business without a USDA-FSIS Federal Grant of Inspection and (with rare exception) without taking its livestock and poultry for slaughter and processing to any federally inspected facility; and (f) defendants had not yet changed Miller’s business model to attempt to qualify for an exemption from federal inspection under the Acts for any part of their operations

Food safety is largely based on voluntary compliance. Once regulators are certain that how to comply is understood, the agreement to do so often involves little more than a handshake  If everyone played the system the Amos Miller did, the whole system would grind to a halt.

You cannot put enough food safety cops on the beat to police everyone, especially if evildoers are everywhere. We can be glad that is not the case, but we can also be grateful that talented investigators like  Paul Flanagan and Scott C. Safian. are on the job.

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