Federal Law Gives Orchard Growers More Responsibility

By Tom Bacon

Some inland northwest apple and cherry growers are ready to chop down their trees and retire because of a new federal law meant to head off food-borne illnesses before they bloom into full scale outbreaks.

The landmark Food Safety Modernization Act requires the Food and Drug Administration to prevent illness caused by food contamination rather than simply responding to outbreaks of, say, salmonella or e-coli.

But the agency struck a nerve with tree-fruit orchardists when it decided that fruit which is eaten raw would be subject to strict new standards, while fruit and vegetables usually cooked or processed would be exempt.

The new rules could force orchardists to regularly test their irrigation water, to sanitize fruit-picking bags and to keep animals away from crops. But growers argue that apples, cherries and pears have never caused outbreaks of illness. And they say that forcing them to adopt costly new regulations will put many of them out of business.

Apple grower Charles Lyall from Mattawa Washington, bluntly told FDA officials - if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Chris Schlect, who is president of the Northwest Horticultural Council said - quoting "it's hard enough to get by all that nature throws at you and to make some money at the end of the day."

FDA food-safety officials insist they're open to making changes in the proposals to reflect different growing conditions, regions and crops.
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