The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Will Fantle, 715-839-7731

Federal Court Victory: Almond Farmers Can Challenge USDA Pasteurization Rule

Onerous Rule has Devastated California Raw Almond Producers


A federal
appeals court ruled today, overturning a lower court decision, that a group of California almond
farmers have the right to challenge a USDA regulation requiring the treatment
of their raw almonds with a toxic fumigant or steam heat prior to sale to
consumers. For the past three years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
has denied American consumers the right to buy raw almonds, grown in the USA,
when they shop in grocery and natural food stores.

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group of almond growers sued the government to challenge USDA's rule, but
the federal district court ruled that courtroom doors were closed to the
growers' claims. The controversial rule has cost individual farmers
millions of dollars in lost sales since it was enacted in September 2007.

are delighted by the court's decision," said Will Fantle, of The
Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy and research group that has been
coordinating the legal strategy and the lawsuit brought by 13 California almond growers. Cornucopia
has been coordinating the legal strategy for the farmers' lawsuit.
"At long last the farmers who have been injured by this rule will have
the opportunity to stand in court and state why this poorly thought out
regulation should be thrown out," Fantle added.

USDA and the Almond Board of California imposed the treatment scheme to
minimize the risk of salmonella contamination outbreaks like those that had
occurred with almonds in 2001 and 2004. USDA investigators were never
able to determine how salmonella bacteria somehow contaminated the raw almonds
that caused the food illnesses but they were able to trace back one of the
outbreaks, in part, to the country's largest "factory farm,"
growing almonds and pistachios on over 9000 acres.

growers have argued that the onerous and expensive mandated treatment regime is
only needed by the giant industrial producers, who have less control over the
quality of their nuts, and has hurt their market because of consumer resistance.

in the industry have questioned the logic exempting foreign-grown almonds from
the treatment scheme. Imports have displaced raw domestic nuts in many
major markets and retail locations across the U.S. This regulatory loophole
is part of what has been crushing California

am very happy with this first step in overturning this destructive
regulation," said Nick Koretoff, an almond farmer and plaintiff in the
lawsuit. "The treatment mandate has been a financial catastrophe
for me. My consumers want raw, untreated healthy almonds and I have been
denied the opportunity to sell them what they want."

John Vetne, who has been representing the almond farmers, said the Appeals Court made
a "very strong decision affirming farmers' rights." The
USDA had been arguing that farmers did not even have the right to legally
challenge the USDA regulation. "We are pleased that the Appeals Court
rejected USDA's argument that courthouse doors are closed to
farmers. We now intend to demonstrate to the federal district court that
USDA acted outside of authority granted by Congress when it denied California
almond growers a consumer market for raw almonds," Vetne added.

of thousands of consumers have expressed their discontent with the raw almond
treatment rule in comments to the USDA. Organic and raw foods enthusiasts
were particularly incensed that the nuts, despite being processed with
propylene oxide (identified as a carcinogen by the federal EPA) or steam-heat,
were still allowed to be labeled as "raw" - many
believe that essential nutrients in food can be destroyed by heat, radiation
and toxic chemicals.

Cornucopia Institute, an organization known for its research and defense of family
farmers involved in organics, artisan and local food production, was impressed
with how many consumers have a real passion for maintaining the availability of
raw food and nuts, including almonds, and have been willing to financially
support the farmers in their legal challenge. "Contributions
continue to flow in supporting this effort," Fantle noted.

and many of my friends look forward to the day when we will once again be able to
easily purchase truly raw, authentic almonds from California in my local
store," said Joan Levin, a Chicago resident and raw foods consumer.
"We hope this Appeals Court
ruling brings that day closer," she said.

The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit farm policy research group, is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Their Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate and governmental watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit.