USDA Under Pressure to Address Almond Pasteurization Issue
Co-directors of the Cornucopia Institute met with three high-ranking officials at the USDA in Washington to discuss the outpouring of public concern regarding the agency’s very controversial mandatory almond pasteurization order for domestically grown raw almonds. Cornucopia used the meeting as an opportunity to deliver more than 1,500 individual proxy letters opposing the new requirement, adding to thousands of other e-mails and contacts the USDA has received. For the better part of an hour, Cornucopia discussed the concerns of consumers and the mounting negative impact the almond pasteurization rule has on family farmers and organic farmers.
Cornucopia then offered a compromise proposal for the USDA to consider. The farm policy group suggested a plan permitting the sale of untreated American-grown almonds with a warning label, which would allow for continued freedom of choice in the marketplace and would allow marketers the option of continuing to sell raw almonds. Cornucopia also requested that the USDA consider a second solution - a pasteurization exemption for organic almond growers (since the organic sector has not been implicated in any of the past contamination problems associated with almonds and organic regulations have certain food safety protocols built-in).
The response from USDA staff was encouraging ("constructive” in the words of one official). Half of all public comments being received by the Secretary of Agriculture, according to these USDA officials, have been on the almond issue! They are clearly hearing the public’s voice, but they need to respond as well.
A number of family-scale almond farmers and organic farmers - who rely upon the sale of their nuts to domestic markets - are being severely harmed by the almond rule. Costs of almond pasteurization, either with the toxic fumigant propylene oxide or steam heat, were underestimated by the USDA. And a number of retail outlets have switched, due to consumer demand, to foreign-grown raw almonds that can still be sold in the U.S. without being pasteurized. One American family farmer growing almonds has reported to Cornucopia that he has incurred losses totaling $400,000 from the new rule.
As part of the compromise proposal to the USDA, Cornucopia offered to wait until early 2008 before initiating any legal action seeking to suspend or overturn the pasteurization rule. If the plan falls through at USDA, watch for news on the legal front.
Meanwhile, Cornucopia is seeking to keep the issue front and center at USDA. As proxy letters from the public continue to come in to the organization, they are being hand delivered to the USDA. If you haven't already, please make your voice heard! An action alert with downloadable proxy letter and directions about where to send it are available at: http://www.cornucopia.org/almond/ConnerLetter2.html