Controversial Almond Treatment Faces Delay


Will Fantle

The Cornucopia Institute

CORNUCOPIA, Wis., Aug. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Small-scale farmers, retailers, and consumers are renewing their call to reassess a USDA plan to “pasteurize” all California almonds with a toxic fumigant or high-temperature sterilization process. All domestic almonds must have the treatments by early next year. The scheme was quietly developed by USDA in response to outbreaks of Salmonella in 2001 and 2004 traced to raw almonds.

“The almond ‘pasteurization’ plan presents many harmful impacts for consumers and the agricultural community,” said Will Fantle, research director for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group. “The logic behind both the necessity and safety of the treatments processes has not been adequately analyzed-as well as the costs for small-scale growers and the loss of consumer choices.”

Last Wednesday, the California Almond Board suddenly requested a delay in the treatment mandate until March, 2008 — it had been set for September 1. “We support this delay,” said Fantle, “but a delay, due to the industry being unprepared, isn’t enough. The USDA must also re-open the rule for public review and comment so that those who have been shut out of the decision-making process can have input into any almond treatment plan.”

Almonds are not inherently risky foods. Salmonella contamination occurs when livestock manure or other fecal matter is inadvertently transferred to food through contaminated water, soil, transportation and handling equipment or from poor employee hygiene and sanitation practices.

“All fresh foods carry some chance of risk,” notes Bruce Lampinen, a scientist at UC-Davis, who studies almonds, “but there is no more risk now than there was thirty years ago.”

Many say the rule will competitively injure smaller sustainable and organic growers. “This will put American farmers at a distinct disadvantage in the U.S. and abroad,” says organic almond farmer Mark McAfee.

Jason Mahon owns Premier Organics, a company making raw almond butter in Oakland, CA. Mahon is looking to foreign suppliers and believes the rule is a “fear-based decision of the Almond Board trying to protect itself from bad press and lawsuits.”

The USDA’s preferred fumigant, propylene oxide, is recognized as a possible carcinogen. It’s banned in the European Union, Canada, Mexico.

Allowing treated almonds to still be labeled “raw” is deceptive, contends Cornucopia. “This rule denies consumers the right to control their food choices by making informed decisions,” Fantle added.

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