An Amish Farmer’s Food Rights Battle
The January 4th raid on Amish farmer Amos Miller’s Pennsylvania establishment, reflects a growing tension between government regulation of food safety and liberty-minded individualists distrusting industrial food production. Pennsylvania State Police secured Miller’s farming premises for search by the state’s Department of Agriculture for “illegal raw milk and raw milk products, including eggnog,” following reported cases of E. coli in New York and Michigan, allegedly linked to Miller’s products. This curious dispute has far-reaching implications for Americans’ food rights.
Miller déjà vu?
Farmer Miller has been in and out of the food rights limelight since 2015, when the USDA alleged his raw milk products sickened a person in California and caused another person’s death in Florida by listeria (which Miller denies). Miller has negotiated fines and regulatory conformance to appease the Feds for his past transgressions, but the recent cases have brought Pennsylvania authorities to his door, where they seized eggnog and sour cream, chocolate milk, and ice cream.
Miller’s Amish traditions inspire his belief that it is not merely his right, but his duty, to provide nutrient-dense foods to his multistate customer base as a defense against untrustworthy industrial food products. Miller and his customers seek to operate under federal and state regulatory radar as “Private Member Associations” or entities that privately enter into contractual relations and are not engaged in public commerce. They know the risks of raw milk and farm-processed meats and deliberately seek these and other farm-direct products for their perceived health benefits.
Unfortunately, Mr. Miller has held a somewhat unsteady legal course, switching counsel and representing himself pro se, including invoking vague and unhelpful sovereign citizen claims. Still, his head-butting with government regulators highlights a broader battle forming between food rights activists (such as those who successfully passed a food rights amendment to Maine’s Constitution in 2022), and an ever-expanding federal/state food inspection apparatus.
Food Rights Firebrands
Kentucky’s Thomas Massie co-sponsored the PRIME Act, which would expand regulatory liberties for intrastate meat sales and bolster small farms and their direct sales to consumers and restaurants. Massie wasted no time shooting a shot across the political bow in support of Amos Miller, posting this on X:
Looks like Amos Miller’s farm is being raided.— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) January 4, 2024
With all of the problems in society today, this is what the government wants to focus on?
A man growing food for informed customers, without participating in the industrial meat/milk complex?
It’s shameful that it’s come to this. https://t.co/pWwjp6cgPh
The most significant tension lies in the balance between appropriate government oversight of commerce, especially regarding health and safety, and personal food choice sovereignty. This push and pull has increased over the last century, intensifying as toxic food additives and mass production of less nutritious produce and processed foods cause health-conscious consumers to do without government “protections” that too often protect corporate profits over human health.
As attorney David Berg poignantly predicted in a 2013 article in the Journal of Food Law & Policy:
If liberty is the freedom to make one’s own choices in life, why can we not make those choices with respect to our food?
Food choice is not a new right; it is a right and a practice as old as civilization.
However, it was not until industrialization and regulation that citizens felt the need to assert such a right, and now courts and legislators will increasingly have to take this right into account.
Berg argues that the right to purchase food directly from a farmer, sans mandatory government inspection, is a fundamental right. The federal government has failed to halt atrazine, glyphosate, neonicotinoids, and other chemicals, and subsidizes corn (and thus high-fructose corn syrup) and other questionable foods. More recently, public trust has been compromised by dubious claims about the “safety and effectiveness” of certain medications that proved to be neither. It is not unreasonable that public views about the necessity of government food inspection fluctuate with levels of trust. As public trust in government and food safety continues to deteriorate, farmers like Amos Miller are sought out like food gurus.
Women have been granted the “right” to an abortion, gays the “right” to marry, and transgender-identifying citizens the “right” to “gender-affirming” surgery at public expense. Concurrently, zoning laws increasingly compel citizens to eliminate chickens from their backyards or cease and desist from milking or raising a cow. In this milieu, do people have the “right” to shape their identity around food (as Berg persuasively argues)? May Americans who prefer an Amish sovereign citizen’s barn-processed foodstuffs over the fare of the food conglomerates simply enter freely into a contractual and informed “assumption of risk” of the potential harms from uninspected meals?
Hard-working, hardscrabble farmer rebels like Amos Miller are a preview of the growing movement to push back against government overreach. Americans prefer their independence and personal food sovereignty over compelled servitude to Big Brother in the name of security, whether the Police State protection is proffered against nebulous climate change, dehumanized foreign enemies, a sketchy disease from China, or alleged food-borne illness from raw Amish eggnog.
Attorney-farmer John Klar hosts the Small Farm Republic Substack and podcast from his Vermont farm. His new book is Small Farm Republic: Why Conservatives Must Embrace Local Agriculture, Reject Climate Alarmism, and Lead an Environmental Revival.
Image: Free image, Pixabay license, no attribution required.