Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Update on Raw Almond Controversy by Cornucopia Institute

Hello,
I want to give you an update on recent developments with The Cornucopia Institute's work seeking to rescind or modify the almond pasteurization rule.

The Almond Board of California discussed a proposal from The Cornucopia Institute to modify the almond pasteurization mandate at its November meeting. Cornucopia's proposal called for placement of a warning or advisory label on unpasteurized almonds, alerting consumers to the difference. The proposal would have allowed for the continued availability of raw almonds in the marketplace, while alerting consumers such as pregnant women, immune suppressed individuals, and raw almond enthusiasts that there might be some increased risk of pathogenic disease from eating the untreated nuts.

The Almond Board rejected Cornucopia's proposal. The Board's CEO, Richard Waycott, told Cornucopia that they do not have the authority to make such a decision and that only the FDA has the power to do so. While Waycott may be technically correct, the Almond Board's support for such a plan would have carried considerable weight with federal regulators. Furthermore, Waycott indicated that the pasteurization effort was proceeding smoothly with few objections.

Such positive thinking differs markedly from what Cornucopia is hearing from organic and family-scale farmers. A number of growers have reported unexpected increases in processing and transportation costs related to the requirement that they treat their nuts with either a fumigant or steam. And the expenses the growers are experiencing are well above the costs initially estimated by the Almond Board in their economic analysis of the rule's impact on farmers. In fact, one organic almond farmer told Cornucopia that he has lost $450,000 in sales due to the new rule.

In late November, staff from Cornucopia will be in Washington, D.C. One goal of the visit is to deliver more than 1500 individually signed proxy-letters to the USDA calling for suspension of and a full public review of the pasteurization rule, and input from all stakeholders that should have taken place initially. Cornucopia staff members are scheduled to meet with the USDA Undersecretary Bruce Knight and other high officials during their visit to discuss this issue. (Thanks to all of you who have sent us your proxy letters, it really adds to our standing and credibility before regulators and elected officials!)

While in Washington, Cornucopia staff will also appear before the National Organic Standards Board urging them to clarify that the toxic fumigant, propylene oxide, will not be used to treat organic almonds, something that remains unclear at this time.

Should USDA officials remain unmoved, Cornucopia expects to head into federal court seeking a judicial remedy, and staff, along with their legal team, are currently doing associated research. The court option, because of its expense, has been the last choice all along, but it may soon be the only option left to preserve market opportunities for small and organic farmers and the right of consumers to eat truly raw almonds grown in the U.S.

Consumers and industry participants can add their voices to this debate by visiting Cornucopia's web site (www.cornucopia.org) and downloading a proxy-letter to mail back to Cornucopia. We will continue to deliver these as they come in, even after the batch that we leave with the Secretary's office. The proxy, along with other background materials, can be found at the Authentic Almond Project link.

We also expect to release in the very near future our analysis of the elevated cancer risks consumers are being exposed to by consumption of PPO treated almonds. We had been waiting for the ABC to provide us with some additional information that might dispute our research/conclusions but nearly two months have passed and our repeated queries have not being satisfied.

The cancer risk related information is rather startling. It again suggests to us that the PPO treatment plan is aimed at protecting some large growers with poor management practices from lawsuits while shifting the treatment burden from those practices to consumers in the form of PPO-spurred disease problems.

Please stay in touch and share any observations or thoughts you have on the almond pasteurization issue.

Will Fantle
Research Director
The Cornucopia Institute

Eli Penberthy
Food and Farms Policy Analyst
The Cornucopia Institute

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