SALINAS — The Canadian Food Inspection Agency published import requirements for romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas Valley last Friday but the move has perplexed local leaders because it is not clear why this has come about since there are currently no illness-related issues.
“This type of imprudent decision by our number one trading partner is not just impactful and harmful to our romaine producers in the short term, it also could set precedent harming trade for other agricultural products in the long term,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley. “Moreover, I have yet to be presented with any evidence that these new Canadian requirements are based on sound science.”
Panetta said that is why he has been in immediate and constant contact with the White House, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to not only find out the reasoning for, but also to rectify this decision.
Norm Groot, the Monterey County Farm Bureau’s executive director, said the news caught his organization off guard and that he is working with Panetta’s office to get answers.
The requirements would affect bulk and fresh romaine lettuce from the Salinas Valley, which was valued at a combined total of $694,765,000 in the 2019 Monterey County Crop Report.
A total of 96,083,000 pounds of produce from Monterey County was exported to Canada in 2019.
“As the United States Representative for the Salad Bowl of the world, I will continue to work closely with our administration to fight back against these unfortunate and unfriendly requirements imposed by Canada,” said Panetta, who is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture.
The Canadian import requirements point to romaine lettuce from the U.S. being associated with outbreaks of foodborne E. coli illnesses in Canada and the U.S. It says food safety investigations and trace-backs from U.S. authorities have identified a recurring geographical area as the source of outbreaks and names Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties.
Panetta said the requirements are not based on a current E. coli outbreak or failed tests and amount to a non-tariff barrier.
“Due to the recurring nature of the outbreaks in Canada the (The Canadian Food Inspection Agency) is implementing temporary import conditions for romaine lettuce originating from these growing areas,” said the agency.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency will require importers of romaine lettuce from the implicated regions in the U.S. to provide a certificate of analysis for each shipment to demonstrate the product does not contain detectable levels of E. coli and impacts all shipments arriving in Canada between Oct. 7 and Dec. 31.
Panetta said he is appreciative of the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency In his view, there has been far too little communication between governments.
“This raises concerns as to whether Canada has followed the proper notification requirements agreed to in the (United States Mexico Canada Agreement),” said Panetta.