Cornucopia, WI - The Cornucopia Institute has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the United States Department of Agriculture and the Almond Board of California seeking public documents justifying the merits of the almond pasteurization rule and the science supporting it.
Since the passage, in spring 2007, of the controversial rule mandating pasteurization of raw almonds grown in California, policy analysts at The Cornucopia Institute have made numerous requests for public information from the Almond Board of California (ABC). Repeatedly, the Almond Board has failed to turn over documents they allege prove the effectiveness of pasteurization and the comparative nutrition, quality, and safety of pasteurized almonds and raw untreated almonds.
Some in the industry - family-scale growers, organic farmers and handlers, retailers and consumers - have vigorously protested the USDA-imposed pasteurization mandate of raw almonds and questioned whether it is based on sound research.
"We have taken this step because we have been frustrated by the Almond Board and the USDA's unwillingness to share the science behind the rule, the science that purports to show that treatment with either a toxic fumigant or steam heat is safe and does not affect the almond's taste and nutritional qualities," said Will Fantle, research director for The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy group.
The Almond Board claims that the EPA, the FDA, and the ABC's own "Technical Expert Review Panel" have undertaken "extensive research" to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of propylene oxide (PPO), the toxic chemical approved for use with almond pasteurization. Furthermore, they claim that these tests have demonstrated that PPO effectively kills Salmonella and other harmful bacteria, and that almonds treated with PPO are safe for consumption. However, they have refused to reveal the results of these or any other tests, including the results of a $1 million study commissioned by the ABC to assess quality degradation.
"If they have completed these studies, why won't they share this research?" asks Eli Penberthy, a policy analyst with Cornucopia. She notes that she has made multiple requests to the Almond Board asking for a number of their studies and research documents.
One explanation may be that the studies are incomplete or unfinished. Cornucopia has learned that at least some of the studies were still being conducted nearly a year after the raw almond treatment mandate was implemented on September 1, 2007. Additional research results assessing the shelf life, oil stability, flavor, texture, and appearance of treated almonds are also supposed to be available.
"We find it very troubling that the proponents of the almond treatment rule, who portray this as a food safety measure, still cannot produce the science and studies upon which the rule is supposedly based," said Penberthy. "The lack of data proves that the rule was passed prematurely and without sufficient review."
The Cornucopia Institute helped 15 California almond farmers and raw almond wholesale handlers file a lawsuit on September 9 challenging the pasteurization rule. The lawsuit contends that the USDA lacked regulatory authority and acted illegally in implementing the almond pasteurization rule.
A Washington, D.C., federal court will be ruling on the lawsuit, perhaps later this year. If successful, the raw almond treatment mandate would be overturned.
"Many family-scale farmers producing almonds and fresh fruits and vegetables are now having their livelihoods put at risk by a number of onerous 'technological fixes' that corporate agribusiness is looking to for solving food contamination problems," added Cornucopia's Fantle. "These draconian regulations might very well push out of business the highest-quality and safest farm operations in the nation and, in doing so, will shut out growing legions of consumers who are seeking out a higher quality and more nutritious food supply."
Propylene Oxide is so toxic that it is not even registered for use as a food processing agent in many parts of the world, including most of Europe, Africa, Asia, and Canada. The Environmental Protection Agency recognizes it as a carcinogen and cause of disease, and as a suspected toxicant of the liver and the gastrointestinal, immune, developmental, and respiratory systems.
Almonds imported into the U.S. are exempt from the pasteurization rule. This exemption has caused severe economic hardship for many domestic family farmer and organic almond producers.
More information on the federal lawsuit and the almond pasteurization controversy can be found on Cornucopia's web page under the Authentic Almond Project.