Overturning a lower court decision, the District of Columbia federal appeals court ruled yesterday that a group of California almond farmers have the right to challenge a U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation requiring the pasteurization of almonds.
Initiated in September of 2007, the pasteurization rule was in response to a string of Salmonella outbreaks linked to almonds in 2001 and 2004. The Almond Board of California proposed mandatory sterilization across the industry to prevent future problems and the USDA agreed to implement and enforce the new rule.
Raw and organic almond farmers pushed back over concerns about the methods of sterilization, namely over the use of propylene oxide, a probable carcinogen, to fumigate the nuts.
A group of growers has been fighting the rule since it took effect and yesterday marks the first major victory for their case.
“We are delighted by the court’s decision,” said Will Fantle, research director at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisonsin-based sustainable agriculture advocacy group 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,” said Fantle in a statement yesterday.
“I 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, an attorney representing the almond farmers, said the Appeals Court made a “very strong decision affirming farmers’ rights.”
“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,” said Vetne.
The full court opinion is available here.