The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just filed a complaint in federal court, seeking a permanent injunction against Amish farmer Dan Allgyer in Pennsylvania. It accuses him of violating a federal prohibition on interstate sales of raw milk by shipping unpasteurized milk to a Maryland buying club’s members.
As part of its complaint, the agency says it carried out a lengthy undercover investigation to acquire raw milk, and as part of it, “FDA investigators picked up each unpasteurized milk order at various private residences in Maryland.” All of which has me wondering …
Were the agents looking over their shoulders as they wandered onto decks and into garages of the private homes as they picked up their milk? Were they whispering into cell phones to comrades waiting outside, eager to get their hands on the contraband? Did they stop to admire deck furniture, barbeque grills, and lawn tools on their way into and out of the homes? And maybe do a little dumpster diving, checking the trash for clues to the family’s prescription drugs, nutritional supplements … whether there might be some leftover weed.
Perhaps more to the point, did the imposters feel any sense of remorse or shame by virtue of entering private residences to seize food — eagerly ordered and paid for by the club members — as part of a major federal investigation?
On this last point, the answer appears to be negative. According to the complaint filed in U.S. District court a couple weeks back, the FDA undercover effort has been going on for more than a year. “In late 2009, an investigator in FDA’s Baltimore District Office used aliases to join the cooperative that Allgyer’s farm was supplying in Maryland and Washington, D.C.” The complaint noted that the group “warns group members to ‘not share information about our group and certainly not about our farmer’ with government agencies or doctors … ”
Over the 15 months between December 2009 and March 2011, additional FDA investigators used the cooperative’s “online ordering website and placed orders for unpasteurized cow milk on 23 occasions … Payment for each purchase was made in the form of a money order payable to Dan Allgyer. Payment was either mailed to Allgyer” or left inside a zip closure bag that was located at the pickup site in Maryland, the private homes where FDA investigators obtained their evidence.
These surreptitious pickups weren’t the end of the investigation, though. “An FDA laboratory analyzed twelve of the twenty-three samples of milk purchased by the FDA investigators and confirmed that all twelve were unpasteurized.”
Investigators also visited Allgyer’s farm on April 20, 2010, and “observed numerous portable coolers in the Defendant’s driveway and a walk-in cooler/freezer on the property that contained products that appeared to be milk and other assorted dairy products.” The coolers were labeled with the names of various locations within Maryland, including Takoma Park, Bethesda, Bowie, and Silver Springs.
Not surprisingly, members of the buying group in Maryland are upset by the FDA’s undercover tactics. The club has hundreds of members, “including bureaucrats, lobbyists, staffers on the Hill,” says Liz Reitzig, one of the club organizers. “It feels like betrayal,” she says. “The fact that they have been in some of our homes is mean. We trusted them, and they are totally betraying us.”
Reitzig argues that the milk being delivered to members wasn’t being purchased, and thus wasn’t part of interstate commerce. It was already owned by the members as part of their club membership agreements, and was merely being delivered to them. Indeed, the fact that it could only be obtained by entering private residences is testimony to the private nature of the transactions, she says.
Who knows, maybe some FDA staffers who weren’t privy to the undercover operation had their homes visited. It’s a tough business, this official effort to deprive people of food.