Why doesn’t Amos Miller just get a permit to sell raw milk?

That’s the question Lancaster County Judge Thomas Sponaugle asked in the ongoing legal saga between Amish dairy farmer Amos Miller and the state of Pennsylvania.

“Why doesn’t Amos Miller just go get a permit … just like every other Amish farmer in the county and commonwealth does if they want to sell raw milk?” the judge asked. “Doesn’t he see in his heart that’s all he has to do?”

Supporters gathered in support of Amos Miller. Photo: Suzette Wenger/Lancaster Online

You can find a recap of the case, which dates back nearly a decade, here. In January, Miller’s farm was raided following allegations that a foodborne pathogen was linked to his products, including egg nog.

Also in that month, an emergency injunction banned Miller from producing and selling raw milk products without the appropriate permits. That decision has ratcheted up the pressure on Miller, as his livelihood comes under more direct threat.

Why Amos Miller isn’t getting a permit

The answer to the judge’s question is pretty simple, from Miller’s perspective: the permit only solves part of his problem. He wants to sell much more than just raw milk and certain cheeses, including other products like “butter, soft-cheeses (Pennsylvania only permits hard cheeses), kefir and colostrum — the first substance produced by mammary glands after giving birth — because Pennsylvania doesn’t allow their sales.”

As an aside, I’m glad I wasn’t eating when I read that last one.

So it seems like Miller’s bigger problem is with existing Pennsylvania state law. That seems a more insurmountable issue than say, accepting state regulation of some sort, or simply complying with permit requirements. Perhaps the goal here is to compel a review of state law?

But changing the law to accommodate Miller (and you’d assume, others who’d like to market similar products) is not going to happen overnight, even if there was the will to do so.

Miller on the ropes?

Time may be running out for Amos Miller’s operation. His lawyer Robert Barnes is saying things are dire: “If he can’t get any product to anybody for another month, he’s bankrupt and it’s over anyway.”

Supporters rally for Amos Miller. Photo: Suzette Wenger/Lancaster Online

However, one thing that certainly must cheer Miller is his many supporters, especially from outside the Amish community, but from within the community as well. From Lancaster Online:

Though the hearing was on a narrow legal question, it drew dozens of Miller’s supporters, providing further evidence that Miller has become a cause celebre for those who accuse the government of overreach and tyranny related to food choice and safety.

From Miller’s perspective, there’s an even more consequential sign of this: financial support for the Amish dairyman has been strong. The GiveSendGo campaign set up for him following the egg nog raid quickly raised over $75,000; it is currently up to over a quarter-million dollars.

Amos Miller’s GiveSendGo page as of March 8th

And as the quote above suggests, there are more layers to this – as Miller has become a national story, and something of a political symbol and rallying point. Here’s one description of Miller’s support, via Penn Live:

Earlier in the day, dozens of Amish men and women crowded the sidewalk in front of the courthouse in downtown Lancaster. They were joined by many non-Amish supporters carrying signs with messages such as “Food Freedom.” Speakers railed against government “tyranny,” saying state agriculture department inspectors and state troopers who accompany them are “agents” of evil, and that the only valid law comes from God, not the state. One chanted “give me salmonella or give me death”; others handed out containers of raw milk and chunks of raw cheese.

Miller’s cause has also been amplified by presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who urged people to attend Miller’s latest hearing in support.

The above-linked report also suggests that the judge is open to helping Miller find a way out of his predicament, suggesting that if Miller would apply for the permits, the process would likely be expedited.

I don’t know how much of Miller’s business is made up of raw milk and hard cheese sales, versus the other products. But it seems that it would at least keep part of his business viable. I’m also going to note that the publicity garnered by Miller over the duration of this case – and which has seemed to only increase lately – would be considered extremely valuable as free advertising in expanding his customer base, at least for his raw milk and hard cheese products.

The latest – Miller wants to sell out-of-state

Miller’s side has also framed this as a welfare issue – as in the health and welfare of his customers will be in danger if they can’t access his products. That argument appeared again in the latest report from yesterday. On Monday, Miller’s side requested that he be able to sell his products to out-of-state customers:

The attorneys wrote Miller will face “substantial irreparable injury” if he can’t sell to out-of-state customers and those customers “will suffer substantial harm if not afforded access to these products.”

An Amish contingent also showed up in numbers to support Miller. Photo: Suzette Wenger/Lancaster Online

The health-and-safety issue has played out with both sides presenting their cases:

At the hearing, the state highlighted evidence it says it collected on January 4, including multiple samples of products that tested positive for listeria, which can cause blood infections and severely harm pregnant women or cause prenatal complications. They presented photos they said show evidence of unsanitary conditions.

Barnes, meanwhile, called a series of Miller’s customers as witnesses. All were from out of state, and all described using raw milk products from Miller to successfully treat severe conditions, including one who said it transformed her autistic child.

He then called a series of experts who argued that raw milk has many health benefits that are destroyed by pasteurization, and that raw milk is as safe or safer than pasteurized milk.

The problem for Miller here is that federal law requires milk shipped across state lines to be pasteurized. So, he’s butting up against another long-standing law here. However, Miller’s lawyer had a retort to that:

Miller’s California-based attorney, Robert E. Barnes, said in an email when asked about that on Thursday that it’s been challenged in court and the federal Food and Drug Administration has agreed not to enforce the ban.

Barnes said the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture knows that and is trying to usurp the FDA’s role and sidestep the challenge.

What comes next? Hard to say, but at the least I am going to hazard a guess that Miller is not going bankrupt anytime soon – despite what his lawyer might suggest.

Recent GiveSendGo donations to Miller at the time of writing

His case has gotten too much attention, and he has too much public support – proven in no small part by the financial donation campaign, which is currently raking in hundreds of dollars an hour (see screenshots above).

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    7 Comments

    1. john

      milk dispute

      I can see both sides of the story the government is there to protect us from sickness from diseases in the milk yet we the people have a choice we don’t have to buy the milk or other products if we do not feel they are safe. The Amish are trying to protect their way of life. Almost like the lights on their buggies some will install flashing lights to help protect themselves from accidents and others feel it is an intrusion in their life if they install the lights. The 8 most feared words are : I’am here from the government to help you’ It is amazing that his lawyer is from California.

      1. Ralph Nephew

        the eight words the Amish don't like

        Along with those words, The Amish could quote, IF YOU CANNOT TRUST THE GOVERNMENT ASK A INDIAN…

    2. David Stear

      The milk

      This was an interesting and informative article. While I can sympathize with Amos Miller and realize that at least some of his customers want or even need his raw milk products without government regulation or as some would have it, “interference” or “meddling”, I also realize that consuming raw milk products is a risk and could fall into the hands of those not willing to take that risk or are unaware of its possible consequences. This case has no easy solution and I hope to read more about it in future Amish America newsletters.

    3. Ann the Least

      Colostrum

      Colostrum is a big reason why breast feeding is so important. Whether cow colostrum helps humans is debatable as the two immune systems have different chemistry.

    4. Jerry

      Burke's Garden

      Off topic…
      Erik,
      Have you heard about a traffic accident in Wisc on Friday that took the lives of seven Burke’s Garden residents? The word around Tazewell, Va is they expected 1,000 Amish visitors to be in the Valley today to pay their respects.

    5. JON THORELL

      There are very good reasons why we have laws regarding pasteurization.
      World wide, prior to pasteurization, milk was a common source of the bacteria that caused tuberculosis, Q fever, diphtheria, severe streptococcal infections, typhoid fever, and other illnesses. Pasteurization ended it.
      The Amish are behaving just like the Muslims. They want to be exempt from laws that apply to everyone else. Society cannot function with double standards. All laws must be applied uniformly.

    6. Elin

      Traditional Swedish food include a dish called “kalvdans” that contains colostrum. It is a cheese cake like dish but not quite as sweet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalvdans