Civil Lawsuit Filed to Enjoin Local Farm’s Continuing Misbranding of Meat/Poultry Products and Evasion of Food Safety Laws
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced today that his office has filed a civil lawsuit to enjoin Miller’s Organic Farm of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, and its owner, Amos Miller, from continuing to violate federal food safety laws. The violations include Miller’s selling non-federally-inspected, misbranded meat and poultry products to consumers located throughout the United States.
The United States brings the action on behalf of the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FSIS is responsible for ensuring that commercially sold meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly labeled and packaged. A principal way that FSIS fulfills its mission is by inspecting meat and poultry products before they reach consumers.
The suit is part of the United States’ continuing efforts to bring Miller’s into compliance with federal food safety laws. In late 2015, for example, the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates milk: (1) isolated and identified Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) bacteria in samples of Miller’s raw milk; (2) through whole genome sequencing, found the bacteria to be genetically similar to L. mono in two individuals who had developed listeriosis (with one dying) after consuming raw milk; and (3) named Miller’s as the “likely source” of those infections.
In follow-up, FSIS sought to assess whether L. mono might be contaminating Miller’s meat and poultry products. But Mr. Miller refused to grant FSIS entry to the farm’s meat-and-poultry-related facilities, even after the agency served him with a subpoena. He erroneously contended that, as a self-organized private membership association, Miller’s is beyond the reach of federal food safety regulation.
The United States then sued Miller’s in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, to enforce the subpoena and USDA’s access rights under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA). See United States v. Miller’s Organic Farm and Amos Miller, EDPA No. 16-cv-2731. After the court enforced the subpoena, FSIS cited Miller’s with FMIA and PPIA misbranding and other violations, which have since continued. This is believed to be the first-ever suit of its kind where FSIS is seeking an injunction against a so-called “private membership association” farm business to enforce food safety laws.
“With today’s lawsuit, food establishments in this District are on further notice that my Office will not ignore efforts to evade federal food safety laws and to hinder agencies like FSIS from carrying out their public safety missions,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “We will not allow commercial sellers to ignore the rule of law, make up their own sets of rules, and attempt to hide behind a private-membership-association structure in an effort to thwart federal laws. Congress enacted food safety laws to ensure that the nation’s food supply is safe, wholesome, and properly labeled and packaged. It’s our job to enforce those democratically enacted laws, which we will do in this case.”
“FSIS investigators work hard every day to protect consumers,” said Carmen Rottenberg, FSIS Administrator. “We take our job to protect public health very seriously, with swift action to ensure that American families have safe food to eat. Flagrant failure to meet the regulations will not be tolerated.”
Assistant United States Attorney Gerald Sullivan is litigating this case on behalf of the United States.