Bluegrass Beacon: A Shakespearean take on an Amish farmer’s tragedy

BluegrassBeaconLogoTo try, or not to try, that is the question: 
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer  
The slings and arrows of FDA noncompliance

Is this how Shakespeare might have rendered a current version of “Hamlet” were he writing in these days of out-of-control government agencies, including perhaps the most McCarthy-like of them all: the Food and Drug Administration?

In the case of Sam Girod, an Amish farmer in Bath County, the FDA suffered him not – nor the labels on his herb-rendered skin salves, for that matter.

It all started a few years ago when Girod ambitiously claimed in labeling and promotional materials that his ointments concocted with chickweed and bloodroot could cure skin cancers along with less-serious ailments.

Girod agreed to remove “skin cancer” from the label and call the product “Chickweed Healing Salve.”

The FDA wasn’t satisfied.

They now objected to “healing” in its name, so he renamed the ointment “Chickweed Salve.”

But the agency’s regulatory brutes wouldn’t be content until they made an example out of Girod.

The FDA bullied its way to a felony conviction against this simple Amish farmer who’s now staring at a possible 48-year prison sentence when he’s sentenced in June – all for such scary activity as misbranding labels and the fact that his farm was “an establishment not registered with the Food and Drug Administration” and on arbitrary charges of “impeding” a federal investigation.

I doubt Farmer Sam will be contemplating Shakespeare’s writings while finishing out his life behind bars. And it certainly doesn’t seem like the FDA, judge and prosecutors in this case will be feeling the “oppressor’s wrong” or “the insolence of office” anytime soon, as Will might have observed.

In fact, they might even be assembling a new SWAT team to save future Kentuckians from the perils of Amish farmers’ skin salves.

Plenty of avenues exist to resolve these types of cases without such harsh tactics.

Customers could have returned Farmer Sam’s products, boycotted his business or even sued him for financial damages if they believed he defrauded them.

Even the fact that Girod twice relabeled his ointment wasn’t enough to satisfy the zealotry of the FDA and a small-town court obsessed with carrying out its skin-salve witch hunt.

Wouldn’t it have been cheaper for the town just to burn poor Farmer Sam at the stake like in Shakespeare’s day?

“Aye, there’s the rub,” as Will writes in “Hamlet.”

If Sam were forced to “shuffle off his mortal coil,” what political lesson of intimidation would exist to warn other Amish farmers, raw-milk producers, farm-to-table hosts and every producer of natural remedies and herbal cures found on shelves in all sorts of establishments – from the shelves of Walmart to your local holistic grocery store?

Producers of these natural products should all prepare ultimately to feel the slap of the heavy-handed FDA enforcement regime.  

But what happens in a few years after a lifetime of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” when the judge, his prosecutors and FDA tyrants along with their enablers – and perhaps even the jurors who took only four hours to condemn an Amish father of 12 – find themselves with an odd spot on their hand that stubbornly persists and won’t go away?

Maybe they’ll be informed by a doctor: “it’s cancer.”

They’ll try chemo; it won’t work.

Maybe they’re given a devastating sentence that the little skin spot could cost them their life.

Now they’d give anything to have access to a 100 percent natural chickweed salve produced by an Amish farmer who by then may have shuffled off his mortal coil and took his recipe – and their right to try it – with him.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.