All almonds produced in California, even those labeled as raw, must be pasteurized prior to being offered on store shelves to consumers in North America. This was mandated on September 1, 2007, by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in conjunction with the Almond Board of California (ABC). This mandate was a response to two alleged salmonella outbreaks in 2001 and 2004 that were wrongfully blamed on raw almonds.
ABC now requires fumigation or high-heat steam treatment for all almonds, including those that are sold as raw, despite an absolute abyss of scientific justification and virtually no rational investigation into the cause of the original outbreaks (which had nothing to do with the fact that the almonds were raw).
Since the passage of the pasteurization requirement, a groundswell of opposition has ensued from concerned citizens over the elimination of truly raw almonds from the marketplace, including an outcry from besieged domestic almond growers who have witnessed the rapid disintegration of their raw almond markets in favor of untreated, unpasteurized imports.
Almond growers, particularly organic ones, have experienced tremendous financial burdens both in meeting the requirements and in coping with a dwindling market for their forcefully mislabeled product. The mandate has caused most people seeking raw almonds to purchase from international growers whose products are truly raw and can legally be sold raw in stores.
Besides the fact that USDA and ABC have legislated the untruthful labeling of pasteurized almonds as raw, their approved methods of pasteurization complicate matters even further. Steam processing, roasting and blanching, and fumigation with toxic propylene oxide (PPO), a known carcinogen that is highly flammable and hazardous to health, is now being applied to “raw” almonds.
Propylene oxide food treatment is banned in many countries, including Canada, Mexico, and the entire European Union because it is recognized internationally as carcinogenic to humans. Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified propylene oxide as a carcinogen responsible for neurological, gastrointestinal, immune system, respiratory, and liver disease, to name just a few. But here in the U.S., this toxin is being applied to a “raw,” whole food.
Having failed to properly investigate and address the root causes of food contamination, the regulatory bureaucracies have once again attacked the food rather than the food contaminator and, in this case, are recommending a treatment option that actually poisons food in the name of making it safer.
The Cornucopia Institute (CI), an advocate of sustainable and organic agriculture, has been leading the fight to repeal the nonsensical almond pasteurization mandate. On September 9, 2008, 18 almond growers filed a federal lawsuit contesting the USDA final rule concerning almonds. Though the suit was dismissed in May of 2009 on technical grounds, new motions have been filed requesting a reconsideration by the judge due to technical errors on her part in assessing the case.
Though the judge had initially dismissed the case, claiming that almond farmers have “no right” to express their concerns in court, John Vetne, the attorney working on the almond appeal, successfully secured a ruling on a similar case in July that farmers indeed do have the right to contest market order regulations in federal court. In other words, based on precedent, the almond growers’ lawsuit is valid and there is a good possibility that the ruling can eventually be overturned.
Those concerned about protecting raw food from mandatory pasteurization, irradiation, or any other sort of manipulation should be very very interested in supporting organizations like the Cornucopia Institute that work to defend the free trade of unadulterated, natural, and organic food. Domestic almond growers are continuing to to suffer great loss due to the unsubstantiated mandates that are quelling both business and livelihood.
Wholesome, raw food is a valuable commodity that should not be taken for granted. The farmers and growers that provide us with it are in grave danger of going under due to excessive burdens, regulations, and mandates that punish them rather than the true culprits of food contamination. Like almonds, many other goods are threatened with extinction in their natural, unadulterated forms. Please consider supporting advocacy groups that work to protect the free trade of clean, raw food, and do your part to protect free access to whole, clean and natural foods.
Editor’s note: Why such a big fuss about raw almonds? It’s because raw almonds are a treasure chest of nutrients that can be denatured and destroyed by pasteurization. The monounsaturated fats found in almonds have been shown in studies to not only reduce LDL cholesterol, but also to lower the risk of heart disease. This is what makes raw almonds and other sources of monounsaturated fats central to the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet we hear so much about. During pasteurization, the molecular structure of these fats is altered.
Almonds are rich in flavonoids, natural antioxidants found in plants that have tremendous powers to slow the aging process. More than twenty different flavonoids are found in almonds, primarily concentrated in the skin rather than the meat of the almond. Flavonoids can be destroyed by the heat used in the pasteurization process.
Studies have shown that eating almonds along with high glycemic food such as pasta, bread and potatoes helps reduce the spike in blood sugar and insulin that eating those foods can produce. And almonds’ ability to reduce the insulin response is what makes a chocolate bar with almonds a much healthier choice than a plain chocolate bar. Almonds are important to diabetics, pre-diabetics and those prone to hypoglycemia who want to keep their blood sugar under control.
Raw almonds are a good source of protein, but pasteurization reduces the protein content of almonds. It also alters the more healthy form of sugar that is naturally occuring in almonds, making it more threatening to those seeking blood sugar control.
As previously reported, several studies have shown that people who regularly eat nuts such as raw almonds have a lowered risk of weight gain. Munching them can reduce unhealthy abdominal fat and waist circumference.