A federal court in the District of Columbia has dismissed a lawsuit filed by California almond growers, handlers and grower-handlers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) challenging an agency regulation that requires handlers to treat raw almonds grown and sold in the United States to reduce the risk of Salmonella contamination. Koretoff v. Vilsack, No. 08-1558 (D.D.C., decided March 9, 2009). Without addressing the merits of the complaint, the court granted the USDA’s motion to dismiss, finding that the plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies, which would have required petitioning the USDA secretary before bringing their action in court, as mandated by statute.

Since September 2007, all domestic almonds intended for sale in the United States must be pasteurized by either proplylene-oxide fumigation or steam heat. Growers and handlers reportedly complain that unpasteurized raw almonds demand higher prices, up to 40 percent more, and that foreign suppliers, who are not subject to the rule have a market advantage. A spokesperson for the Cornucopia Institute, an organization that supports organic farming and organized the litigation, was quoted as saying, “We are not abandoning the fight to return to grocer’s shelves an American-grown, highly nutritional raw food that has been eaten with confidence and enjoyment for decades. We believe the fundamental points of our lawsuit are valid and need to be tested.” See Foodnavigator-USA.com, March 13, 2009.

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