Federal Judge Edward G. Smith Wednesday found farmer Amos Miller in contempt of court in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
The judge is discussing with counsel how to resolve the issue of sanctions for the seller of unpasteurized, raw milk and uninspected meat and poultry products.
Miller is the owner of Miller’s Organic Farm in Upper LeacockTownship. He’s long resisted federal food safety laws, recently saying his actions are intended to make it possible for his children to stay on the farm. “I am willing to take the stand to make sure that we preserve our culture,” Miller told a local newspaper.
Miller’s Organic Farm is associated with a private membership group of as many as 2,000 food buyers. The farm fulfills orders for unprocessed meat and unpasteurized, raw dairy products.
On behalf of the USDA and FDA, the Department of Justice has filed numerous actions over the years against Amos Miller and his farm. Most recently, the DOJ won an injunction forcing Miller to cease violating food safety laws. Miller signed a consent degree in 2020 acknowledging he was violating the injunction.
Judge Smith ordered Miller to appear in his court on June 16. He was sworn and given the opportunity to explain why he should not be found in contempt of court. Miller was, however, found in contempt.
Government attorneys say that Miller shows a “singular, historic willingness to flout democratically enacted federal food safety laws of general applicability.” Specifically, he’s resisted USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services responsibility for ensuring meat and poultry sold commercially is safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged.
Miller previously agreed to use a federally inspected slaughterhouse to process his meat but stopped because he objected to its use of antimicrobial citric acid. Miller argues that regulations and inspections make food less safe, not more safe.
“If you put too many preservatives on the food, the body can’t break it down where you get the health benefits of it,” Miller has said. “That’s why all these illnesses are coming out.”
Miller’s Organic Farm advertises itself as organic, non-GMO, and free of chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics. He says many of his customers view the farm’s food as medicine.
In 2015, the FDA found unpasteurized, raw milk produced by Miller’s Farm was responsible for two illnesses and one death. An outbreak strain of Listeria connected the cases.
Sanctions imposed by the court for the most recent contempt of court finding might result in the seizure of up to 2,100 pounds of Miller’s meat and a fine of up to $5,000 per pound.
When the DOJ last began legal action two years ago against Miller, it was based on these findings of fact, as edited for length and content:
- A self-styled “private membership association,” defendant Miller’s Organic Farm is an unincorporated, non-partnership, for-profit sole proprietorship farm business located at 648 Millcreek School Road, Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania 17505. In 1999, defendant Amos Miller’s father rented 648 Millcreek Road, Bird-in-Hand property to Amos Miller. The Amish farmer who had farmed the property before Amos Miller likely used pesticides. Miller’s Organic Farm began business operations in 2000. At that time, based on their expectation of consumer demand for nutrient-dense foods, Amos Miller and his father began focusing the farm’s business on organic and raw foods.
- At all relevant times, defendant Amos Miller and his wife have solely owned Miller’s Organic Farm, which files its tax returns under Mr. Miller’s name. The Millers reside on the farm property. Miller is responsible for and has authority over all of the farm’s meat and poultry operations.
- What Miller’s Organic Farm refers to as its “private membership association” is a diverse buyer’s club that: (a) Miller and his wife created in approximately 2000. Throughout the relevant period (2016 to present) Miller’s has approximately 2,000 members paying a one-time membership fee of $35.
- It does not screen members for their views or beliefs. Most of the employees are not members of Amos Miller’s immediate family. Only some are members of Miller’s private membership association.
- At its Bird-in-Hand location — through individuals who work there — , Miller’s Organic Farm both slaughters animals such as cattle and poultry and processes from those slaughtered animals meat and poultry products that are capable of being used as human food. At its Bird-in-Hand location, with the only exception being limited poultry that five or fewer neighbors take to Miller’s every year for slaughtering and processing using Miller’s equipment.
- Those neighbors own that poultry and keep it for their own use after processing. Miller’s Organic Farm-owned poultry is raised not only at the Bird-in-Hand farm location but also at nearby Amish farms in Pennsylvania that Miller does not own.
- Miller’s Organic Farm-owned beef cattle are raised not only at the Bird-in-Hand farm location but also at a farm located in Tazewell, VA, that Miller does not own.
- Meat and poultry products that Miller’s Organic Farm sells to its members throughout the United States result from slaughtering and processing that Miller does at his Bird-in-Hand farm location.
- Even Miller’s hot dogs are the result of Miller’s slaughtering and Miller’s processing, though the processed meat products are shipped to a Pennsylvania Mennonite individual for conversion into the final hot dog products before being returned to Miller’s for labeling.
- The sole exception to Miller’s slaughtering and processing of the meat and products that it sells are duck products that Miller’s sells, which come to Miller’s already slaughtered and processed.
- Miller’s Organic Farm has not applied for federal inspection of its meat and poultry operations and has no current plans to apply for federal inspection of those operations.
- At some point after the filing of this lawsuit in April 2019, Miller’s Organic Farm began considering changing its business model to fit within a “custom exemption” from federal inspection under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act for much of its meat and poultry operations.
- Miller has not yet put those changes into effect, however, let alone in a manner that FSIS has approved of as compliant with relevant laws. To date during the relevant period,
- Miller has taken only one animal (beef livestock), in approximately July 2019, to a federally inspected plant near Miller’s for processing and slaughtering. Miller’s has offered the federally inspected, processed meat food products from that single animal for sale to its members through a Florida co-operative.
- Miller’s has stated that, going forward, it will base its decision whether to offer to its members additional federally inspected products on: (a) the level of member demand for the federally inspected beef products from that single animal; and (b) members’ responses to a survey that Miller wrote and sent to them during June 2019. That survey presented members with four options, and was attached to a newsletter to Miller’s members stating that Miller’s views on why providing federally inspected products was not in Miller’s or its members’ interests.
- The fourth option presented was: “Miller’s Organic Farm should continue like we have been and continue to exercise our private right to freedom of choice to buy direct, off-the-farm, nutrient-dense foods.”
- Amish-owned, Amish-operated establishment named Belmont Meats opened near Miller’s. Belmont Meats is a federally inspected facility with a federal grant of inspection and will slaughter and process meat and poultry that is brought to its facility.
- Miller’s Organic Farm asserts that its procedures for sanitizing and cleaning its meat and poultry slaughtering equipment and work areas, and for ensuring that its meat and poultry are safe, involve Miller’s employees: (a) using hot, pressurized water mixed with 35 percent peroxide; (b) using soap; (c) smelling meat and poultry for freshness; (d) washing and rinsing meat and poultry when slaughtered; and (e) after slaughter but before processing, taking meat/poultry temperature with a stationary thermometer and then cooling the meat/poultry in a refrigerator or freezer.
- Amos Miller oversees those efforts. Miller’s Organic Farm has not had any outside organizations test its meat or poultry products for safety, though Miller’s is “working on that now.”
- At its Bird-in-Hand farm site, Miller’s Organic Farm operates a dairy and retail store business. The store sells Miller’s products only to Miller’s private membership association members, including to food co-operatives that participate or are otherwise members in Miller’s private membership association.
- Such sales include meat food products and poultry products that require federal inspection and that members and food co-ops who are located throughout the United States — including Pennsylvania — order in person, by phone, by email, or through the internet. Miller’s fulfills those orders by itself transporting, or by arranging delivery services to transport, the purchased products.
- During the relevant period, the meat food and poultry products that Miller’s Organic Farm has sold to members of its private membership association for human consumption, with the limited exception of beef products from one animal slaughtered in approximately July 2019, have not been federally inspected.
- Miller’s Organic Farm cannot control whether its private membership association members share with non-members — in the members’ homes or otherwise — the non-federally-inspected Miller’s meat food and poultry products that the members commercially purchase.
- Miller’s Organic Farm’s private membership association members pay Miller’s for meat food and poultry products that Miller’s sells to them and that are capable of being used as human food.
- Among the nationwide food co-ops that place orders for Miller’s Organic Farm’s meat food and poultry products on behalf of individuals who are both Co-op members and Miller’s members are (a) a Co-op named Pastured Farm Food Club (https://www.pasturedfarmfoodclub.com/) that Anke Meyn coordinates in West Palm Beach.
- Miller’s Organic Farm’s members can order Miller’s meat and poultry products on the internet even if they are not members of participating co-ops.
- They can do so through the FarmMatch website at https://www.farmmatch.com/millersorganicfarm/locations, which is operated by Max Kane of Wisconsin. FarmMatch currently allows for the delivery of Miller’s orders to pick-up locations in Massachusetts, Georgia, North Carolina and Arizona.
- Miller’s Organic Farm occasionally sells its meat food and poultry products to its members at conferences around the United States, including Weston A. Price Foundation conferences.
- Since 2016, the meat food and poultry products that result from slaughtering and processing at Miller’s Organic Farm, that Miller’s sells to its members, and that are capable of being used as human food commonly have included only the following labeling language — apart from the product name, “packed on” date, weight, and price: (a) “Miller’s Organic Farm/Private Membership Association”; (b) “NOT FOR PUBLIC SALE”; and/or (c) “NOT FOR PUBLIC SALE/Private Membership Association.” Although some of the labels that Miller’s Organic Farm used for meat and poultry products in 2016 and 2017 did not include the “not for public sale language,” Miller’s Organic Farm states that all such labels now include that language.
- During just three months in mid-2016, Miller’s commercially sold to its nationwide member-customers at least 9,015 pounds of red meat food products for $85,062 and 5,085 pounds of poultry products for $39,050. Those monthly sales amounts are in line with monthly sales in the months since that time, until the present.
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