[Update: On February 22, 2013: the DC Court of Appeals "held that California almond producers don’t currently have the right to even argue that the USDA overstepped the bounds of its authority with the Almond Rule." The Almond Rule had actually extended the power of the USDA to "mandate how dairy, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and animals are processed." (source) Another blow to food freedom!]
Whether or not you eat, or even like, almonds, you should care about the USDA’s ban on raw almonds, because the ban is most certainly a Food Freedom issue. U.S. organic almond growers are not free to sell their natural raw product and we, as consumers, cannot buy raw almonds grown in the U.S. In 2007, the USDA mandated that all U.S. grown almonds be pasteurized (heated) or, for non-organic almonds, gassed with the toxic gas propylene oxide (PPO), a probable human carcinogen. Almonds treated with PPO are banned in Canada and the European Union but allowed, even encouraged by the ban, in the US.
Don’t be fooled if you’ve seen U.S. almonds labeled “raw.” The USDA allows almond growers and processors to label almonds as “raw” even though they’ve been pasteurized or gassed! How about that? Is that truth in labeling?
Why did the USDA impose a ban on raw almonds? A few people became ill from Salmonella traced to open containers of non-organic almonds in 2004. Likely in fear that people would stop buying almonds, large agribusinesses asked the USDA to ban the sale of raw U.S. grown almonds. Since it seems that the USDA almost always does whatever big agribusiness wants, a ban was issued on the sale of US grown raw almonds in the U.S.
There is no similar restriction on imported almonds, even though there is no difference in the risk of illness between imported and U.S. grown raw almonds! US customers now must buy much more expensive imported almonds, if they want their almonds raw and unprocessed. In another strange twist of the law, U.S. growers may ship their raw almonds overseas with no restrictions! Unbelievable but true! They just can’t sell them in the U.S. How weird! Another oddity with the ban–growers can sell their raw almonds at farm stands but not in organic food stores or any retail store. Does this seem like a true food safety issue? Of course not. It’s a food freedom issue! It’s a market control issue.
The ban on raw almonds has hit the California organic almond growers especially hard. Customers who want organic almonds often want them raw and unprocessed. The California organic almond growers sued the USDA in 2008 to regain their right to sell raw almonds. The USDA has pursued this case very aggressively, partly because it is viewed as a test case for the USDA which wants the power to require all raw, healthful foods to be “killed” (the “kill step” so favored by the FDA’s John Sheehan) by pasteurization, gas, irradiation or other processes. The USDA’s view is that “killing” all raw foods is good for the consumer, because killing bacteria makes foods safer!?
Why should we want raw unprocessed almonds instead of cooked or gassed almonds? First let’s just acknowledge that no one should eat almonds gassed with a carcinogenic.
So let’s move to the second treatment–pasteurization/heating of organic almonds. We buy raw almonds because they are rich in nutrients. We don’t want those nutrients damaged or reduced by heating (pasteurization). Almonds are high in protein (with a fairly well balanced amino acid content), linoleic acid (the body’s main essential fatty acid), vitamin E, and contain phytonutrients. They are very good sources of many minerals such as calcium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Pasteurization destroys enzymes and valuable phytonutrients and lowers vitamin E content.
Even if heating weren’t destructive of nutrients, do we really want the USDA to have the right to ban any raw foods, any foods? The USDA’s FDA is also trying very hard to ban raw milk. This is definitely a food rights, food freedom issue! If the USDA wins this one, what food is next? It is essential that we have the basic, fundamental right to choose the foods we want to eat for our health and that of our children. Our health and our lives depend on it!
How can we help the California organic almond growers? We can donate to help them win their lawsuit against the USDA. They have already been hurt economically from the lack of raw almond sales, and, as you probably know, this type of litigation takes many years to process through the legal system. Visit Action for Almonds to help with their legal expenses so that they can continue fighting the USDA so they once again may sell their healthy, untreated almonds.
We can also tell others about the attempts to restrict our freedom to choose the foods we want to eat. The more knowledge people have about what is being done to our food supply, the less they will be fooled by misleading labels such as those calling cooked/gassed almonds “raw.” We need accurate labeling. We need to know what’s in our food and what’s been done to it!
Staying Healthy with Nutrition by Elson M. Haas, MD,
Almonds, The Weston A. Price Foundation
Photo credit: Wikipedia