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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Almond Farmers Can’t Upend Salmonella Rules

WASHINGTON (CN) - Salmonella prevention justifies U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements that all domestic almonds face pasteurization or chemical treatment, a federal judge ruled.

The USDA adopted the rule in 2007 after Salmonella outbreaks in 2001 and 2004 were blamed on raw almonds.

Claiming that the rule destroyed the industry of raw almond production, however, a group of California almond producers filed suit in federal court. The group claimed that USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack exceeded his authority under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act (AMAA).

"At root, plaintiffs claim that the Salmonella rule is a food safety measure, as distinguished from a measure to guarantee the quality of almonds such that they may be effectively marketed," U.S. District Judge Ellen Huvelle explained Wednesday. "Plaintiffs argue that such "food safety" measures are the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration and are clearly not encompassed by the plain meaning of 'quality' in the AMAA."

Finding that she "cannot agree," Huvelle granted the agency summary judgment.

"To the extent that plaintiffs have put forward a definition for 'quality,' theirs is substantially narrower than the term's dictionary definition.

"The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'quality,' as it relates to a thing, as '[a]n attribute, property; a special feature or characteristic,' or '[a] particular class, kind, or grade of something, as determined by its character, esp[ecially] its excellence.' Per this definition, whether almonds are contaminated by Salmonella might reasonably be deemed a 'property' or a 'characteristic' of almonds, and Salmonella-free almonds might constitute a 'particular class" of almonds defined by 'its excellence.'"

"Moreover, narrowing the definition of 'quality' as plaintiffs suggest, to include only an almond's 'inherent, measurable attribute[s],' would arguably make the term redundant with 'grade' in violation of a well-established canon of statutory instruction," she added. "Most important, plaintiffs' proffered definition of food 'quality,' as somehow distinct from food safety, differs from the dictionary definition of the word."

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