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Almond Fiasco

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Over one billion pounds of almonds are being harvested here in California. The California Almond Board in conjunction with the USDA has mandated that they be fumigated. Now almonds have been grown in California for over 150 years, during that lengthy span there have been but two outbreaks of salmonella, one in 2001 and another in 2004. Both occurred with conventional almonds, not organic. What’s going on here? It’s not hard to conjecture that it has something to do with the advent of large scale industrial processing.

An almond grower clued us in:

Almonds are harvested by having a machine come along and shake the trees. The almonds fall to the ground and are gathered up. Now conventional almond orchards are often fertilized with fresh manure. (This is prohibited for organic almonds where manure has got to be well composted.) It’s not hard to see this as the source of the contamination. But that’s not all.

The almonds are then put in bins and loaded on trucks. Around a processing plant there may be acres filled with trucks sometimes waiting for days till it’s their turn to unload. So the almonds sit there in the hot sun, in bins covered with tarpaulins. The almonds are moist and are there baking in the sun what more ideal conditions for every sort of bacillus to flourish? Could there be a more perfect Petri dish?!

The problem could be resolved, it seems to us, by foregoing fresh manure and by just in time scheduling so that there is no need to have trucks waiting around for days. Instead they have chosen to fumigate. What a delightful solution. (Reminds us of the meat packing industry—instead of cleaning up the unspeakable conditions in slaughter houses, they want to irradiate meat.)

Organic almonds are handled differently, our farmer friend told us. They are grown in orchards filled with grasses and wild plants. All summer long the orchards are mulched and mown. The grasses and trees are alive with insects, birds, and animals. This biodiversity is a natural check against any untoward organism. Conventional almonds on the other hand are grown in lunarscapes. The ground beneath the trees is bare-after all; nothing must get in the way of production.

Propylene oxide is a substance very much like ether. It is a highly toxic, flammable chemical compound. It was once used as a stock car racing fuel, but, we are told, it has been banned by the National Hot Rod Association as too dangerous to handle. It is also used as a military explosive, we were edified to learn. No one gets near the stuff unless dressed in a space suit equipped with a respirator, rubber hands and boots. We were further edified to learn that The United States Food and Drug Administration approved its use to “pasteurize” raw almonds. But we find this, somewhat difficult to understand, as propylene oxide is classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen. “Probable”, although it has caused cancer in laboratory animals, because no one has been willing to imbibe the stuff to see what would happen. One would imagine that this would be of concern to an agency ostensibly charged with safeguarding the nation’s health. But then there are many things one could imagine. We learned further that propylene oxide belongs to the so-called “radiomimetic” genotoxic chemicals group, because it induces similar biological end-points as ionizing radiation. The chemical’s effects on food include gene mutation, DNA strand breaks, and neoplastic cell transformation.

Needless to say, this is quite unsettling as regards the long term effects on the health of those who eat almonds regularly. It appears that propylene oxyde may be more of a health risk than whatever harm might be caused by Salmonella outbreaks.

At a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about the safety of the food they eat, the Almond Board has sent them a powerful message about better toxicity through chemistry. We note that the propylene oxide treatment of foods is banned in the European Union, Canada, Mexico and most other civilized countries.
Let us also remember that almonds are consumed by children, adults, expectant and nursing mothers and elders.

Yet the California Almond Board is rushing to fumigate. As we see it, this is a dangerous precedent. Before long, most food sold in the United States will be genetically modified, irradiated, pasteurized, homogenized, hydrolyzed and labeled “natural”, of course.

Almonds are the most nutritious of nuts. It is tragic that the California Almond Board is fumigating them. In doing so, they are destroying a thriving American industry.

The San Francisco Chronicle recently did an interview with us and others in the industry.

It appeared as a front page feature story:
Organic Almond Supporters Roast Pasteurization Plan

There is a wealth of additional information on our website at:

As we see it, California almonds are the heritage of the American people. Almonds are grown nowhere else in North America but here. They are the result of the intentionality of family farmers, the fertile soil of the great Central Valley, water from melting snow in the high Sierra Mountains and the California sunlight. They are our birthright.

I would be pleased to provide further details.


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