This is a good reminder that ridiculous prosecutorial aggression arises in all sorts of nooks and crannies unrelated to the culture war. The federal government is prosecuting an Amish farmer for selling an herbal salve that he believes cures cancer. Apparently the facts of the case aren't really very much in dispute. This blog post lays the facts, and the relevant legal "reasoning," out in some detail. See also here.
As the federal government sees it, if you make any healing claims for your product, including distributing pamphlets with anecdotal claims of healing from users, then you're by definition selling a drug. If you're selling a drug, then you have to be fully regulated by the FDA. This farmer at first made healing claims on the labeling of his product. Then he backed off on that repeatedly in response to demands by the FDA and judicial orders, until he got the labeling as required. However, meanwhile he also distributed pamphlets somewhere in the vicinity of the store where the salve was sold that made healing claims. Therefore, he's still an illegal drug seller across state lines.
This is pretty absurd. Let's just grant for the sake of the argument (though I'm not sure it's true) that the federal government has a legitimate interest in preventing cranks from making overblown or untested healing claims for their products. Be that as it may, there is something perverse in setting the laws up like a line of dominoes so that making such claims turns one into an illegal drug dealer and opens one up to many years in federal prison. Since there is obviously a vast difference between drug dealers and Amish farmers with (perhaps silly) ideas about the healing properties of chickweed salve, a set of laws that tries to punish one of these as if he were the other is unjust.
If we have to have federal laws that punish people for promulgating unwarranted claims about chickweed salve while selling it, why not make these free-standing laws against labeling or advertising with untested claims, or something to that effect? They could be punished by fines rather than prison time, make no attempt to define the products as "drugs," and be completely de-linked from drug trafficking laws. This seems only sane.
Let's face it, too: The prosecution on this sort of thing is obviously spotty at best. We've all seen healing claims made right on the label of herbal and alternative remedies that are unregulated by the FDA. So why are the feds coming down so hard on this one Amish farmer who (it sounds like) has been pretty compliant in his response to their original criticisms? At the most, they could have told him to stop distributing the pamphlets in question, if that was really that important to them. Since he'd complied on the labeling, he probably would have complied with that as well, and the whole incident could have been closed. Instead of which they are trying (it sounds like) to throw him in federal prison for many years. Which is crazy.
As I said at the outset, this is a reminder to culture warriors like me that such vindictiveness and overzealousness is not confined to people like Kenneth Miller. I've said for some time that the behavior of the federal prosecutors in those cases may have less to do with the homosexuality issue than one might think and more to do with prosecutors' egos and with maintaining a perception of being tough on crime. This story about the dangerous Amish chickweed salve seller, Samuel Girod, tends to confirm that interpretation. Let's hope things go better for Sam Girod than they did for Ken Miller.