In general, the zealous performance of your job duties is an admirable attribute. We all appreciate it when someone does their job well and takes it seriously. But there is a risk that some people may become overzealous. In most contexts, this may do little more than annoy their colleagues. But when the person is a federal prosecutor, the results of overzealous prosecution can have serious consequences for the target of the investigation.
A recent case raises questions about the types of violations that federal prosecutors decide to pursue and how directly they are tied to keeping the public safe. In this case, a cheese maker was charged with causing the interstate shipment of adulterated ricotta cheese. Apparently the single shipment to one customer contained cheese which had been made with milk that contained a level of antibiotics above the acceptable standard.
In this case, the defendants claim that there was no intentional misconduct. In fact, many people believe that the cheese making process itself burns off and dissipates any antibiotics from the milk.
The cheese making company that is the target of this federal investigation has been in business for decades. The allegedly improper shipment of cheese took place in 2008. There has not yet been any indication as to why the charges in this matter were not filed until this week.
Food safety is certainly important, but it seems that a federal criminal prosecution in this matter may not be the measured response that one would hope for. While only a misdemeanor offense has been charged in this case, the same type of prosecutorial zeal could lead to much more serious charges in other scenarios.
Source: Hunterdon County Democrat, “Lebanon Cheese Co. attorney downplays federal charges over ricotta,” Terry Wright, March 13, 2012