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Home arrow MREs arrow Buying MREs arrow Govt. response to eBay auctions

U.S. Government Response to eBay MRE Auctions

Update: January 2003
Update: March 2003
Update: June 2005

The U.S. Government has apparently never been thrilled about the sales of MREs to the general public and opinions vary as to the "legality" of buying/selling military MREs. A quick Google Groups search will show you a number of "why MREs are illegal" posts. Around the middle of 2002, the DSCP (Defense Supply Center, Philadelphia) tried to stop all eBay MRE auctions. I heard from at least one seller who received an email from the DSCP asking him to stop his auction. Here's a copy of the email:

Subj: Question for seller -- Item #(number removed)
Date: 7/22/02 08:43:27 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: (sender removed)@dscp.dla.mil
To: (recipient removed)

Sent from the Internet (Details)


SUBJECT: OFFICIAL REQUEST FOR EBAY AUCTION SALES TERMINATION

TO: ALL SELLERS OF OPERATIONAL RATION ITEMS ON EBAY

FROM: OFFICE OF OPERATIONAL RATIONS SECURITY

This e-mail is being sent to all sellers of Operational Ration Items on Ebay. This is a request for the voluntary termination of all sales of Operational Ration items and is being sent with the knowledge of the Defense Criminal Investigation Service (DCIS), the Ebay Fraud Investigations Team, and the Ebay Infringing Item Legal Department. Immediate auction termination is requested based on the rationale presented below:

1. All Operational Rations are procured by the Defense Logistics Agency with taxpayer dollars and are Government owned until consumed by authorized personnel or disposed of if appropriate. RESALE IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.

2. Sale to and use/disposition by unauthorized personnel is a violation of Operational Rations Security. The potential for adulteration by unauthorized personnel is an unnecessary threat presented by the auction sales of Operational Ration items to unknown/unauthorized persons and such sales will be investigated and terminated.


The VOLUNTARY TERMINATION of subject auctions on Ebay (or other on-line auction sites) is hereby requested by the Office of Operational Rations Security, Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Defense Logistics Agency, Department of Defense. Your cooperation in this extremely important matter is greatly appreciated and your voluntary termination of Government Owned Operational Rations auctions is anticipated. Any infringing auctions which remain after formal notification of sellers will be identified and acted upon by appropriate Ebay personnel or referred to DCIS for further investigation. Questions may be addressed to the official e-mail address below. Again, your cooperation is appreciated.

Office of Operational Rations Security
Technical & Quality Assurance Program Manager
Operational Rations Business Unit
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia
DSCP-HR
(sender removed)@dscp.dla.mil

After this request was made, MRE auctions dropped off dramatically on eBay. However, after a few weeks, cases of MREs began to reappear and that was the end of the dry-spell. I can only guess that eBay's legal department decided it wouldn't outright forbid MRE auctions.

Around December, 2002, I noticed that the DSCP seemed to be taking another tact with eBay auctions. They seem to be sending notices to MRE sellers informing them that the heaters and matches included in military MREs are considered hazardous materials (see this page for a link to the FRHs) and cannot be shipped by certain carriers. Some sellers mention this in the auction and some sellers freak out and cut open the MREs to remove the heaters but the majority seem to be conducting business as usual.

One note:. according to this FAQ on the DSCP website: http://www.dscp.dla.mil/subs/rations/FAQs.pdf "retired military can purchase MREs from their local commissary. If your local commissary does not sell MREs, you can ask them to do so, as they are eligible to purchase them from us."


January 2003 Update

As of January of 2003, the DSCP was still sending these notes out to all eBay MRE sellers. However, the note had changed somewhat. Here's a current copy:

SUBJECT: OFFICIAL REQUEST FOR VOLUNTARY AUCTION SALES TERMINATION
TO: ALL SELLERS OF GOVERNMENT OWNED OPERATIONAL RATION ITEMS
FROM: OFFICE OF OPERATIONAL RATIONS
DEFENSE SUPPLY CENTER PHILADELPHIA
DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY
DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

This e-mail is being sent to on-line auction site sellers of Operational Ration Items. This is a request for the voluntary termination of all sales of Government Operational Ration items. Auction termination is requested based on the rationale presented below:

1.All Operational Rations are procured by the Defense Logistics Agency and are Government owned property until consumed by authorized personnel or disposed of, if appropriate. Operational Rations are never considered “surplus”. RESALE IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED, as expressly stated on MRE cases and individual menu bags (U.S. GOVERNMENT PROPERTY COMMERCIAL RESALE IS UNLAWFUL).

Note: All MRE meal bags contain matches, which require special shipping declarations.

2.Sale to and use/disposition by unauthorized personnel is a compromise of Operational Rations Security. The potential for adulteration by unauthorized personnel is an unnecessary threat presented by the illegal sales of Operational Ration items to unknown/unauthorized persons.

3.Operational Ration items which have exceeded their Inspection Test Date (ITD) (i.e. 3 years from date of manufacture) are not to be issued or consumed unless re-inspected and extended by an authorized Military Medical Authority, in accordance with current operating instructions. Sale of such expired food products is prohibited.

The VOLUNTARY TERMINATION of on-line auctions is hereby requested by the Office of Operational Rations, Defense Supply Center Philadelphia, Defense Logistics Agency, Department of Defense. Your cooperation in this extremely important matter is greatly appreciated and your voluntary termination of Government Owned Operational Rations auctions is anticipated. Questions may be addressed to the official e-mail address below. Thank you in advance. Your cooperation in this important matter is appreciated.

Technical & Quality Assurance Program Manager
Operational Rations Business Unit
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia
Defense Logistics Agency
Department of Defense"

Compare the last paragraphs of both letters. In the first one, the DSCP threatens to take the matter to both eBay and the DCIS. This threat has been removed in later letters. This makes me think that eBay did, indeed, refuse to outright ban these types of auctions.


March 2003 Update

March 2003: I don't know how long eBay has been doing this, but when you try to create an auction for an item containing the word "MRE", you get this warning:

  pointer Attention Sellers:

The following is provided to protect you from listing a prohibited item on eBay.


The sale of food is regulated by the federal government and most state governments. Members that list food and food-related products should familiarize themselves with these laws before listing such items on eBay. Please click here for more information.

Special NOTE to sellers listing MRE's:

All MREs must be delivered to buyers prior to a clearly marked expiration or "use by" date. US Government procured Operational Ration (MRE) items have a 3 year useable shelf life, which is clearly printed on the shipping case.

Because all MREs contain matches, you must declare this fact to the shipper and may only ship these items by ground transport. In addition, remember that Flameless Ration Heaters contain hazardous materials and may not be shipped at all through the U.S. Postal Service or by any other form of air shipment.

The first thing I noticed about this warning is that they say MREs must be delivered prior to a "clearly marked expiration or 'use by' date". Fortunately, U.S. military MREs only have "packed" and "inspection" dates - so yes, even a 10 year old case of MREs is guaranteed to be delivered before the clearly marked expiration date. Canadian IMPs, on the other hand, are a different case - they actually have an "expires" date on the case.

The second thing I noticed was the statement that MREs have a 3 year shelf life. But on the DSCP's own web site, it says "The shelf life of the MRE is three (3) years at 80 degrees F. However, the shelf life can be extended through the use of cold storage facilities prior to distribution." So the actual useable shelf life is variable - everywhere from 1 month to 10+ years depending on how they were stored. Please see MRE Longevity for more information.

Finally, as to the point about declaring matches and not shipping MREs with FRHs via USPS, I won't dispute any of that - it's a good idea.


June 2005 Update

June 2005: The eBay MRE scene seems to have settled down over the past couple of years. MRE auctions are still permitted but users are still warned about shipping them by ground transport only. Now that military MREs are a commonly distributed item during the summer for hurricane relief, I think it's going to be difficult to make the argument that all MREs are government property and any being sold must have been stolen.