Onion growers in the Pacific Northwest are working with members of Congress and other federal officials to address growers’ concerns about proposed regulations related to water quality that the growers say will cause excessive costs without improving food safety.
Kay Riley, chairman of the National Onion Association’s ad hoc committee on the Food Safety Modernization Act, said the proposed water rules were a major topic of discussion at the group’s annual conference July 17-20. He said in general he is disappointed with the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed regulations.
“They were supposed to be prevention-based, but they are practices-based,” Riley said. “And in the water rules the testing is outlandish.”
Riley said the proposed weekly water tests would cost growers in the Treasure Valley area more than $1.14 million.
“We’ve looked at it, and there are about 1,900 fields,” Riley said. “Irrigation is usually 14 to 16 weeks, so if you use 15 weeks as an average, that comes to 28,000 weekly tests at about $50 per test.”
Those figures don’t take into account the man hours and fuel necessary to collect the water samples, Riley said. On top of that, he said he’s not sure there are even enough laboratories to handle the volume of tests the proposed rules would mandate.
Riley and other growers met with U.S. Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, in early July to discuss the issue. The representatives took the growers’ concerns to FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods Mike Taylor and other federal officials July 10.
Industry input needed
An FDA delegation is scheduled to visit the onion growing region in August to further discuss the proposed water rules. For months Taylor has been saying that he wants industry input on the proposed regulations and that he believes the final rules will be revised to reflect that input.
Riley said growers would not be so upset if there was evidence that the water regulations should apply to them.
“There hasn’t been a demonstration of risk to put all of these restrictions on all commodities,” Riley said. “There is no documentation of any outbreaks related to dry bulb onions.”