ONTARIO — New food safety regulations and concerns about how they will impact agriculture producers were added to the agenda of the 53rd annual meeting of the Idaho and Malheur County Onion Growers Associations Tuesday at the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

Hundreds of producers and other people in the onion industry packed the center.

The concern brought up during the meeting is the Food Safety Modernization Act, new food safety regulations recently issued by the Food and Drug Administration. Industry officials are most concerned about regulations which require that irrigation water be clean

Candi Fitch, Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Committee, said the industry groups have been working to develop a response to the regulations which are now in a public comment period, which continues until May.

Fitch presented the following statement that growers were invited to sign: “To date there has never been a documented food safety issue with dry bulbs. Onions have a protective covering and curing process that greatly reduce food safety risks. Onion are never consumed without first being peeled. Because of these factors we feel that dry bulb onions should be exempt. If not exempt, meeting irrigation water specifications stemming from the Food Safety Management Act will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. We will need time to research and collect information that shows the protective covering and curing process is a step that protects the onions from contamination.”

In the area of opportunity, Dr. Irwin Goldman, University of Wisconsin, Madison, talked about promoting the health benefits of onions, which have been known for thousands of years, beginning in 2500 BC with the ancient Egyptians, who used onions as medicine.

“I do believe onions have a lot offer,” Wilson said. One of those properties is the ability to thin blood. However, the downside is that medicinal properties, which increase the longer onions are in storage, are available in raw onions, but effectively disappear when onions are cooked as little as 30 seconds, Wilson said. There is currently no way around that, he said, but more work needs to be done.

Wilson also warned about making claims about the benefits of a product that have not been substantially proven.

Two people were inducted into the Idaho-Eastern Oregon Onion Hall of Fame during the noon luncheon. This year’s honorees were Dr. Ron Engle, who worked a number of years in the seed industry, and the late Pat Takasugi, longtime onion grower in the Wilder area.

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