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US probe targets halal food supplier in Iowa

Associated Press Modified: November 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm •  Published: November 26, 2012

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The maker of a popular brand of food for observant Muslims says it is facing a potentially crippling investigation into whether it falsely labeled meat products as processed in compliance with Islamic law.

The Midamar Corp. said in federal court documents that investigators seized its main bank account and business records under search warrants executed last month. A judge last week upheld the government's seizure of $454,000 in bank funds and rejected the company's request to return the money.

No criminal or civil charges have been filed, and U.S. District Judge Linda Reade ruled that the government's affidavit supporting its search warrant can remain secret so as not to "compromise an ongoing investigation." The U.S. attorney's office declined comment Monday on the investigation, which involves the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Internal Revenue Service.

Miramar said in court filings that the seizures relate to vague allegations that it improperly branded and sold meat products as meeting Muslim dietary requirements, called halal, when they did not. The privately held business, which has been in Cedar Rapids for 40 years, dismissed the allegations. And it claims federal investigators are trying to regulate something that must be left to religions under the U.S. Constitution's separation of church and state.

"Whether Midamar's meat is in fact halal is a religious question that may not be answered by the U.S. government," company lawyers wrote last month.

Midamar says it was the first major U.S. supplier of halal products after its 1974 founding by Bill Aossey, who declined comment Monday. The company calls itself the leading U.S. halal brand and markets more than 200 products for U.S. and international customers, including beef, turkey and chicken. It largely relies on third-party suppliers for meat that it packages.

Reade ruled that she did not believe the company's constitutional argument was "an appropriate basis to quash a warrant" and is premature because no charges have been filed.

Midamar, which has 70 employees, says it has been unable to access credit needed to maintain its operation and that some business partners have kept a distance since last month's raid became public. It warned in one filing that it could soon have to close its doors.

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