Almond growers and handlers file federal lawsuit seeking to end “adulteration” of raw nuts

A group of fifteen American almond growers and wholesale nut handlers filed a lawsuit in the Washington, D.C. federal court on Tuesday, September 9 seeking to repeal a controversial USDA-mandated treatment program for California-grown raw almonds.

The almond farmers and handlers contend that their businesses have been seriously damaged and their futures jeopardized by a requirement that raw almonds be treated with propylene oxide (a toxic fumigant recognized as a carcinogen by the EPA) or steam-heated before they can be sold to American consumers. Foreign-grown almonds are exempt from the treatment scheme and are rapidly displacing raw domestic nuts in the marketplace.

Tens of thousands of angry consumers have contacted the USDA to protest the compulsory almond treatment since the agency’s new regulation went into effect one year ago. Some have expressed outrage that even though the nuts have been processed with a fumigant, or heat, they will still be labeled as ‘raw.’

“The USDA’s raw almond treatment mandate has been economically devastating to many family-scale and organic almond farmers in California,” said Will Fantle, the research director for the Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute. Cornucopia has been working with almond farmers and handlers to address the negative impacts of the USDA rule, including the loss of markets to foreign nuts.

The USDA, in consultation with the Almond Board of California, invoked its treatment plan on September 1st, 2007 alleging that it was a necessary food safety requirement. Salmonella-tainted almonds twice this decade caused outbreaks of food related illnesses. 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 contaminations, in part, to the country’s largest “factory farm,” growing almonds and pistachios on over 9,000 acres.

Instead of insisting that giant growers reduce risky practices, the USDA invoked a rule that requires the gassing or steam-heating of California raw almonds in a way that many consumers have found unacceptable.

“For those of us who are interested in eating fresh and wholesome food the USDA’s plan, to protect the largest corporate agribusinesses against liability, amounts to the adulteration of our food supply,” said Jill Richardson, a consumer activist and blogger at: http://www.lavidalocavore.org.

The lawsuit contends that the USDA exceeded its authority, which is narrowly limited to regulating quality concerns in almonds such as dirt, appearance and mold. And even

if the USDA sought to regulate bacterial contamination, the questionable expansion of its authority demanded a full evidentiary hearing and a producer referendum, to garner public input “neither of which were undertaken by the USDA.

“The fact that almond growers were not permitted to fully participate in developing and approving this rule undermines its legitimacy,” said Ryan Miltner, the attorney representing the almond growers. “Rather than raising the level of income for farmers and providing handlers with orderly marketing conditions,” added Miltner, “this particular regulation creates classes of economic winners and losers. That type of discriminatory economic segregation is anathema to the intended purpose of the federal marketing order system.”

According to the USDA, there is no requirement for retailers to alert consumers to the toxic, propylene oxide fumigation or steam treatment applied to raw almonds from California.

“This rule is killing the California Organic Almond business,” said Steve Koretoff, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and owner of Purity Organics located in Kerman, CA. “Because foreign almonds do not have to be pasteurized their price is going up while our price is going down because of the rule. It makes no sense.” Koretoff added.

Two groups of consumers that have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the almond treatment rule are raw food enthusiasts and vegans. These consumers may obtain as much as 30% of their daily protein intake from raw almonds, after grinding them for flour and other uses. Studies exploring nutritional impacts following fumigant and steam treatment have yet to be publicly released. A Cornucopia Institute freedom of information request for the documents is awaiting a response from the USDA.

Cornucopia’s Fantle noted that the Washington, D.C. federal district court has already assigned the almond lawsuit a case number, beginning its move through the judicial system. “We believe this is a strong legal case and hope for a favorable decision in time to protect this year’s almond harvest,” Fantle said.

Additional background information on the almond treatment issue can be found on The Cornucopia Institute’s web page, under the Authentic Almond Project.

The Cornucopia Institute has been articulating the concerns of family-scale farmers, producing organic, conventional and local food, about the potential fallout from the industrialization of our food supply. Foodborne illnesses, and the contamination of food from large industrial farming operations, are now motivating regulators to look at “technological fixes” rather than addressing the root cause of the problems and the widespread fecal contamination of the nation’s food supply.

“It is ironic that consumers, in increasing numbers, are voting in the marketplace for a higher quality of food from organic and local farmers and producers they trust,” stated The Cornucopia Institute ‘s Fantle. “The very growers that stand to lose are the safest and highest quality producers of food in the United States. We will not allow them to be placed at a competitive disadvantage.” -Cornucopia Institute


FDA will not require labeling of genetically engineered animals that are sold as food

Consumers Union finds it “incomprehensible” that the FDA will not require labeling of genetically engineered animals that are sold as food. Genetically engineered animals may contain genetic material from entirely different species. For example mouse genes have been put into pigs to help them metabolize phosphorous more efficiently, and spider genes have been put into goats so that they produce spider silk in their milk.

FDA proposed recently that they will only review genetically engineered animals for their safety as food, and will not require any labeling. “It is incomprehensible to us that FDA does not view these animals as different from their conventional counterparts, and therefore something that under law is required to be labeled,” stated Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. “In our view, consumers have a right to know if the ham, bacon or pork chops they are buying come from pigs that have been engineered with mouse genes.”

Consumers Union is also concerned that cows engineered to produce antibiotics in their milk, which can help the cow avoid udder infections, also will not be labeled. “Unlike conventional antibiotics, which must be cleared from the cow before it can be used to produce milk or meat, the antibiotic that is genetically engineered into the animal will always be present. We are concerned both about the potential safety and lack of labeling on such food products,” stated Michael Hansen, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Consumers Union. -Consumers Union, Organic Consumers Association


School lab rats freak out on GE food

Schools in Wisconsin are showing kids the dangers of genetically engineered (GE) junk food with some unique science class experiments. Sister Luigi Frigo repeats the experiment every year in her second grade class in Cudahy. Students feed one group of mice unprocessed whole foods. A second group of mice are given the same junk foods served at most schools. Within a couple of days, the second group of mice develop erratic sleeping schedules and become lazy, nervous and even violent. It takes the mice about three weeks on unprocessed foods to return to normal. According to Frigo, the second graders tried to do the experiment again a few months later with the same mice, but the animals had already learned their lesson and refuse to eat the GE food. -Organic Consumers Association


Studies verify link between diet and type 2 diabetes

Three long-term studies published in Archives of Internal Medicine show how food choices lead to type-2 diabetes. Researchers at Boston University followed 43,960 African American women over 10 years, and found that type-2 diabetes developed more often among those who consumed more sweetened beverages. Researchers at Addenbrook’s Hospital in Cambridge, England, found that higher plasma vitamin C levels and greater consumption of fruits and vegetables were associated with a lower incidence of type-2 diabetes among 21,831 adults followed over 12 years. A third article, from Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, Seattle, found that among 48,835 Women’s Health Initiative participants, women assigned to a low-fat diet trended toward a reduced disease incidence, which authors attributed to weight loss. -Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


Six times more fish fed to livestock than to humans

According to the UBS Fisheries Centre in Vancouver, B.C., despite rampant over-fishing and depletion of world fish populations, globally, we are now feeding 14 million tons of edible wild-caught fish to factory farm animals, like pigs and chickens, each year. That amounts to over six times the amount of fish the entire U.S. population eats annually. Wild fish fed to animals on a massive scale include perfectly edible anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and herring, which are ground into a cheap fishmeal and sold for animal feed. In other words a protein source is being fed to animals on corporate farms with a 90% energy loss. Given the global food crisis and the over-harvesting of many of the ocean’s commercial fish varieties, careful analysis of resource use by the global industrial food complex is becoming a life or death imperative. -www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_13294.cfm


Toxic compounds in toddlers and preschoolers three times higher than in moms

In the first nationwide investigation of chemical fire retardants in parents and their children, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that toddlers and pre-schoolers typically had 3 times more of the neurotoxic compounds in their blood than their mothers. The study suggests that U.S. children 1 to 4 years of age bear the heaviest burden of flame retardant pollution in the industrialized world.

Laboratory tests­—conducted in collaboration with Dr. Åke Bergman, a preeminent environmental chemist—found that in 19 of 20 U.S. families, concentrations of the toxic chemicals known as PBDEs were significantly higher in 1- to 4-year-old children than in their mothers. The tests found the fire retardant Deca, banned in Europe but unregulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more often and in higher amounts in U.S. children than their mothers.

In 2003 EWG published test results showing that the average level of fire-retardants in breast milk from 20 American moms was 75 times higher than the average levels measured in Europe. This study confirms that same high exposure in American children.

The average levels of PBDEs in the blood of children tested by EWG were about 62 parts per billion, compared to 25 ppb in their mothers. In the limited number of studies of this age group in other countries, Spanish and Norwegian children had levels 6 to 13 times lower. Australian children have roughly equal levels.

Toxic fire retardants in everyday items like furniture, sofas, televisions and computers could expose children to concentrations exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safe level. Children ingest more fire retardants and other toxins when they put their hands, toys and other objects in their mouths.

Children’s developing brains and reproductive systems are extraordinarily vulnerable to toxic chemicals. In the case of PBDEs, laboratory tests in peer-reviewed studies have found that a single dose administered to mice on a day when the brain is growing rapidly can cause permanent changes to behavior, including hyperactivity.

“It’s well documented that U.S. adults are more exposed to chemical fire retardants than adults in other countries, but these findings show that young children are at even higher risk,” said Anila Jacob, MD, EWG senior scientist and study co-author. “Parents want to protect their children, but once they are old enough to crawl or walk, they are more vulnerable to exposure to these and other toxic chemicals.”

Moms and kids in the study were from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

Even as the chemical industry insists Deca is safe, the European Union has banned it from use, 10 U.S. states are considering or have enacted legislative bans, and major electronics manufacturers including Nokia, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung no longer use Deca and are phasing-out other bromine-based fire retardants. -Environmental Working Group


Sixty thousand organic consumers and locavores visit “Slow Food Nation”

In an amazing demonstration of mass public support and creativity, sixty thousand people attended the nation’s first Slow Food Nation convention in San Francisco on Labor Day weekend, underlining America’s need and desire for a new system of food and farming that is local, organic, and Fair Trade—not to mention delicious. Among the major themes at the conference was a call to eliminate labor exploitation in the natural and organic food sector. -Organic Consumers Association


Sustain Dane seeks Executive Director

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