Onion growers cheer expected water rule changes

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Onion growers in the Northwest are pleased that federal regulators plan to rework proposed food safety rules that had farmers fearing they could suffer major losses if irrigation water were shut off during the growing season.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is writing food safety rules to prevent contamination from the likes of salmonella and E. coli bacteria, and its first take made onion growers unhappy.

The growers were especially upset by a requirement for weekly testing of irrigation water. They say few farmers using ditch irrigation would meet the standards, and the standards wouldn’t add much to food safety.

The agency’s FDA deputy commissioner for foods, Michael Taylor, announced last week that the next draft of the rules will have significant changes, the agricultural publication Capital Press reported (http://bit.ly/1kAsIBG).

That’s expected in the summer. The agency is under a court order to make the rules final by June 2015.

The agency heard from a large number of farmers, researchers and industry leaders, Taylor said in a statement announcing the agency’s decision.

“… We have learned a great deal, and our thinking has evolved,” he said.

“I think it’s terrific news,” said Snake River Produce Manager Kay Riley, who has helped lead the onion industry’s opposition to the proposed rule.

However, Riley said growers would have to keep after the issue because “we won’t know for sure until we see what they propose.”

“I think it’s important we continue our efforts and not assume all is well,” Riley said.

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