Pistachio proposal could reduce food safety risks
California's pistachio producers could potentially boost research and
promotion efforts and do more to combat disease, under Agriculture Department
recommendations made public Tuesday.
The proposed changes will expand how the Valley-based pistachio industry
regulates itself. Growers from Arizona and New Mexico will be folded into an
existing marketing order, a grower-run organization which will gain new
powers under the proposal.
"We're going to reduce the risk of a food safety crisis," said Bob
Klein, manager of the Fresno-based Administrative Committee for Pistachios.
The Agriculture Department proposals made public Tuesday largely track a wish
list posted by leaders of California's half-a-billion dollar a year pistachio
industry. A two-day public hearing conducted in Fresno last July laid the
foundation for the new rules.
"I think it benefits the entire industry to make these
adjustments," grower Randy Raber testified last year.
The proposed changes, following a month-long public comment period and
subsequent industry vote, will revise rules for the Administrative Committee
for Pistachios. The Fresno-based organization is one of many marketing orders
governing specific crops throughout California.
Agricultural marketing orders, and the related promotion orders, enable
growers and handlers to assess fees, fund advertising and research and, in
some cases, set crop standards.
The federal pistachio marketing order began in 2004, though it currently has
limited authority. The latest revisions would authorize a research program,
potentially focusing on nutrition and other areas. Specific research projects
would still need separate approval.
"It gives us additional flexibility, if some huge problem erupts,"
Klein said, adding that "we don't anticipate" starting the research
The pistachio marketing order would also be authorized to impose minimum
quality standards and to take additional steps to combat aflatoxin. The
latter is a toxic fungus whose presence throws a scare into farmers and
consumers alike. The new rules give the industry more flexibility to set
"Because pistachio producers are less able to adjust to decreased demand
and low prices by decreasing production, a lingering food crisis would be
catastrophic for pistachio producers," Kern County grower Brian
Agriculture Department officials agreed, stating Tuesday that expanding the
marketing order to include New Mexico and Arizona will protect California
producers as well, by ensuring uniformly high safety standards.
"An aflatoxin incident in any one commercial producing area could
adversely affect other commercial producing areas," the Agriculture
The Agriculture Department added that the revised rules will allow the
pistachio marketing board to impose specific new quality standards "if
The industry currently assesses fees and maintains a separate California Pistachio
Research Board under state law.
Though pistachios are grown in 32 California counties, the southern San
Joaquin Valley dominates the field. Half of all the state's pistachios are
grown in Kern County, while Madera, Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties account
for most of the rest.
All told, pistachio orchards span some 177,000 acres in California. Arizona
is second in the nation, with 2,281 acres while New Mexico has only about 400
Klein said he didn't expect any immediate assessment increases.