New York Dairy Farmer Turns the Tables When the Ag Inspectors Arrive for a Visit

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Over the last two weeks, Andrea Elliott has been writing emails to farm associations, her Congressman, and members of the U.S. House and Senate agriculture committees—all urging that the upcoming farm bill not include funding for the National Animal Identification System (NAIS). She and her husband, Jim, own a dairy farm in the Catskill Mountains of New York, and she made it plain in her notes that she is adamantly opposed to registering the farm’s 80 cows under the federal program.

On [Monday, October 29] she received a call from an inspector with the New York Department of Food and Markets in Albany that he planned to come by the farm for a special inspection, based on “a complaint” made to the department’s Division of Milk Control and Dairy Services.

Andrea couldn’t imagine who might have complained, and what the complaint might have been about. Her farm, Crystal Brook Farms, sells nearly all its milk to a local creamery for pasteurization. She sells a few gallons of raw milk occasionally to individuals who stop in with their own containers, under New York rules that allow sale of 25 gallons a month without a permit.

[Tuesday, October 30] the inspector, Bradley Lyle Houck, arrived from Albany, two hours away, together with her regular local dairy inspector, and Andrea was prepared. As soon as they arrived, “I turned on my video camera. I think that made them a little uncomfortable.”

Then, she says, “I asked the state inspector to fill out my form.” Her form is a three-page “public service questionnaire” that asks for the inspector’s identity, his principal reason for doing the inspection, how the information he gathers will be used, and other such data. “He shook his head and refused,” says Andrea. “He said, ‘I have to be authorized by Albany.’” He tried to make a call on his cell phone, but couldn’t complete the call because the farm area has no cell reception.

Andrea persisted. “I said, ‘This is our property and I can require you to fill it out.’” He offered his state ID and badge.

Andrea moved on. “I asked him why he was here and he said a complaint was received in Albany.”

What was the complaint? “He said he couldn’t tell me.”

Who filed the complaint? “He wouldn’t tell me. He just wouldn’t go any further. He said all complaints that come into Albany are treated as confidential. ”

“I asked him what statute allows a complaint to be treated as confidential. He said he couldn’t quote a statute.”

At that point, the inspector asked if they could talk off-camera. Andrea declined.

“He said, ‘I guess the best thing would be for us to come back another time.’” The two got back into their car and took off.

Andrea adds, “At no time did I deny him the inspection. I didn’t ask him to leave. All I did was ask him for specific reasons for the inspection. I have a right to know who my accuser is.”

Andrea seems to have added an entirely new dimension to the agricultural inspection. Especially one with such an intriguing coincidence connecting it to NAIS.

Click here to download a form like the one she used.

Note: The “public servant questionnaire” concept as demonstrated above is based on 5 USC 552a (e)(3) — we strongly encourage you to read and familiarize yourself with it.