David Gumpert first encountered Amos Miller more than a decade ago when he was assigned to write a story on the Upper Leacock farmer’s burgeoning organic food business for Bloomberg.
The Massachusetts-based journalist said he was fascinated by the Amishman’s business of delivering organic food products to customers across the country through his private membership co-op. Gumpert’s relationship with Miller led him to continue to follow the farmer’s saga with the federal government, covering stories on his blog, “The Complete Patient,” designed to bring analysis and awareness to food rights cases and raw milk issues around the country.
Gumpert, who previously served as a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and the small business editor of the Harvard Business Review, said consumer access to private food sources has come under attack from the government and big agriculture, imposing unwanted regulations and choices of production.
All someone must do to see the government overreach, Gumpert said, is to look at Miller’s current fight with the federal government over food safety laws and inspections of his operations and threats of jail for nonpayment of $300,000 in fines.
“You could make your devoted career to just following Amos Miller’s legal problems,” Gumpert said. “He has lived on the edge here for so long, it’s hard to know when he’s going to get pushed over or when it’s just going to go away.”
The incident that brought Miller on the radar of the federal government dates back to 2016 when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control issued a report accusing Miller’s Organic Farm of producing raw milk that was “the likely source” of listeria that killed an individual in Florida in 2014. The CDC suggested that “whole genome sequencing” of a sample of raw milk from Miller’s farm was “closely related genetically” to the listeria sample from the dead individual.
The CDC was also quick to remind consumers in its report that “people should drink and eat only pasteurized dairy products” and that raw, unpasteurized milk “can carry dangerous bacteria such as listeria, salmonella, Escherichia coli and campylobacter.”
But through his reporting on the case, Gumpert said he was able to track down the identity of the deceased individual cited by the CDC, finding out it was a 73-year-old North Carolina woman diagnosed with advanced cancer and undergoing chemotherapy in Florida.
“I stand by what I wrote down,” Gumpert said. “The CDC and FDA have it in for raw milk, and they have for many, many years. I’ve written extensively about that. And I think this is just another example of their kind of hysteria about the issue and really trying to blame raw milk as the culprit for Amos Miller’s issues to put him out of business.”
In his reporting, Gumpert said the alleged victim of the raw milk had been living with a family member in North Palm Beach, Fla. The owner of the home was a member of Miller’s private membership co-op, and she told Gumpert that the victim suffered a stroke two or three weeks prior to arriving in Florida.
Gumpert said the family told him the victim was suffering from neck and stomach pain before arriving at her home in Florida. The family member also said she wasn’t sure she had any of Miller’s raw milk in her house at the time of the incident because her children weren’t drinking milk.
The victim was eventually taken to a local hospital where doctors discovered a mass in her stomach and diagnosed her with lymphoma. She was put on chemotherapy and died in November of 2014.
Gumpert said after the woman’s death, her family was notified that she had listeria in her system. Gumpert said he attempted to find a copy of the woman’s death certificate to confirm her cause of death, but he was unable to obtain a copy.
Attempts by The Lancaster Patriot to reach the woman’s family and the homeowner in Florida to confirm details of the story were unsuccessful.
Gumpert said the CDC report made no mention of the victim’s prior health record and did not conclusively link the listeria in her system to Miller’s milk.
“No one’s ever gotten sick from [Amos’s] meat, and really, as far as I’m concerned, no one’s gotten sick from his milk, either,” Gumpert said. “I think that the case that they toss around there was not a case of the person getting sick from milk because the person was sick already.”
Gumpert said Miller’s woes with the federal government were further amplified in April of 2019 when former U.S. attorney and Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate William McSwain announced that his office in the Department of Justice’s Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a civil lawsuit enjoining Miller and Miller’s Organic Farm for “continuing to violate federal food safety laws,” including “selling non-federally-inspected, misbranded meat and poultry products to consumers located throughout the United States.”
The DOJ’s suit said it was part of its “continuing efforts to bring Miller’s into compliance with federal food safety laws,” citing the listeria case linked to the farm. In follow-up inspections, the DOJ said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) “sought to assess whether L. mono might be contaminating Miller’s meat and poultry products,” but “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 DOJ said Miller “erroneously contended” that his private membership association was “beyond the reach of federal food safety regulation.” The agency further said it believed the civil suit was the first of its kind brought to court where the FSIS was 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,” McSwain said in the press release. “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.”
Gumpert said McSwain’s announcement was practically a declaration of war against private food co-ops and an attempt by the federal government to shut them down across the country.
“I think the USDA is out to get Amos, and I don’t think they have to be pursuing this case,” Gumpert said. “But they’re doing it at the behest of the Justice Department. This is all about trying to do away with these private food clubs.
“These different administrations have been consistent in one thing, and that’s wanting to put Amos out of business.”