Lancaster County Farm Enjoined From Continued Misbranding of Meat/Poultry Products and Evasion of Food Safety Laws
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney William M. McSwain announced that the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has entered an injunction ordering Miller’s Organic Farm (Miller’s) of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, and its owner, Amos Miller, to cease violating federal food safety laws. After suing Miller’s in April 2019 for civil injunctive relief, the government moved for summary judgment. In granting that motion, the district court entered judgment against Mr. Miller and the farm and enjoined them from continued selling of non-federally-inspected, misbranded meat and poultry products to nationwide consumers, and from continued obstruction of federal health and safety oversight.
The United States brought 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. FSIS fulfills its mission by inspecting meat and poultry products before they reach consumers. For years, Miller’s has been illegally slaughtering and processing livestock and poultry, and commercially selling substantial quantities of the resulting products for human consumption, all without a USDA-FSIS Federal Grant of Inspection. Meanwhile, the products’ labeling has misled consumers by failing to disclose that the products have not been federally inspected and may not be sold commercially.
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, isolated and identified Listeria monocytogenes (L. mono) bacteria in Miller’s raw milk samples. Through whole genome sequencing, the FDA found genetic similarity between that bacteria and other L. mono in two individuals who had developed listeriosis after consuming raw milk. The FDA named Miller’s as the “likely source” of infections in those persons, one of whom died.
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. The United States then sued Miller’s to enforce the subpoena and USDA’s access rights. See United States v. Miller’s Organic Farm and Amos Miller, EDPA No. 16-cv-2731. Even after the court enforced the subpoena, and even after FSIS cited Miller’s with misbranding and other violations, the violations continued. Further, Miller’s continued to obstruct FSIS’ access to Miller’s facilities, records, and inventory.
Although Miller’s Organic Farm is a sole proprietorship, Mr. Miller organized Miller’s sales operations into a so-called “private membership association” (PMA) food buyer’s club. Mr. Miller based his non-compliance on assertions that PMAs are exempt from regulatory laws. This is false: PMAs are not exempt from federal food safety and other health and safety laws. The United States’ injunction action, United States of America v. Miller’s Organic Farm and Amos Miller, EDPA No. 19-cv-1435, is the first-ever suit of its kind where FSIS obtained an injunction against such a PMA farm business.
The civil injunction requires Miller’s to cease commercial sales of non-federally-inspected, misbranded, non-exempt meat and poultry products. Miller’s also must maintain relevant business transaction records, cooperate with FSIS inspections and oversight, and otherwise comply with federal food safety laws. Miller’s is subject to financial sanctions if it violates the injunction.
“As I stated when my Office filed this suit and as the injunction shows, food establishments in this District must follow federal food safety laws that protect the public,” said U.S. Attorney McSwain. “Congress enacted such generally applicable laws to ensure that the nation’s food supply is safe for consumption. We 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. Today’s injunction is necessary to effect Miller’s compliance and to ensure that, with FSIS’ oversight and assistance, compliance will continue in coming years.”
“At FSIS, we will continue to use our regulatory authority to ensure that meat, poultry, and processed egg products facilities comply with federal food safety laws,” said FSIS Administrator Carmen Rottenberg. “Inspection is the cornerstone of our food safety regulatory system – enabling consumers to purchase and prepare meat and poultry with confidence in the safety of these products.”
This case is being handled by AUSA Gerald Sullivan for the United States Attorney’s Office, which received assistance from Investigator Paul J. Flanagan of FSIS’ Compliance and Investigations Division, Philadelphia Regional Office; Attorney Advisor Tracey Manoff of USDA’s Office of the General Counsel; and Team Lead Troy Hambright of FSIS’ Enforcement and Litigation Division, Office of Investigation, Enforcement and Audit.