Vidalia® Onion Fight Highlights Absurdity of Many State Food® Rules

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The nation's largest grower of Vidalia® onions is fighting--and flaunting--a Georgia state law that says he can't ship onions until the state says so. Why do Georgia and other states have dumb laws like these on the books?

May 3, 2014

Public DomainIt's hardly surprising that the Farm Bill passed this year by Congress is a bloated and idiotic boondoggle. I'm one of many who's written thousands of words on the topic.

But lost perhaps amidst the focus on Congress's role in (mis)shaping American agriculture are less newsworthy state laws that have similarly nefarious impact on farmers and consumers alike.

Take Georgia's Vidalia® Onion Committee (yes, "Vidalia® Onion" is a registered trademark). That's right. The state has a Vidalia® Onion Committee. The stated role of the commission is "to jointly fund research and promotional programs." The committee has been in the new recently thanks to a court case challenging rules it established that mandate specific shipment and marketing dates for Vidalia onions.

Specifically, the Georgia rules state that packing an marketing of Vidalia onions "shall commence no sooner than 12:01 AM on the Monday of the last full week of April, each year."

What happens on the off chance that weather conditions—which are, er, sometimes known to figure into agriculture—play more of a role in determining when a crop is ready than are those unbending regulations? What happens if your crop is ready earlier than the regulations allow? Tough luck.

The nation's largest Vidalia onion grower, Delbert Bland, has the gall to think he might know better than do the onion commissioners what date he should ship his onions. So he did just that.

"Instead of shipping out their onions on April 21, a date set by the state for this year as a way to protect the Vidalia brand and to keep the playing field level, the growers wanted to send out some onions early," reports the New York Times.

So the state fined him. As a result, Bland sued.

What's behind this fight? Georgia insists its uniform start date "assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards,” Commissioner Gary W. Black said in 2013. “Onions that are harvested and shipped too early and do not meet the grade requirements can damage the reputation of this important crop."

Indeed, last year's "Vidalia onion harvest reportedly produced some immature onions, and Black aims to prevent that from happening again," reports the Southeast Farm Press (in an a post worth reading for the Paul Masson reference alone).

Hence the new "packing date" law, which took effect in August.

While Bland won the first round in court, the state appealed.

It also went on the offensive. The Vidalia Onion Commission charmed a group of "national food bloggers and key media people" on a recent tour.

The state also warned Vidalia "growers that the [packing date] rule remains in effect while the state appeals."

But that didn't stop Bland from flouting the rule.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

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  • Almanian!||#

    Georgia insists its uniform start date "assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards,” Commissioner Gary W. Black said in 2013.

    Cause bureaucrats and politicians ALWAYS know more about growing a particular crop than the farmers whose livelihoods depend on it.

    Top. Men.

    Fuck. All. Governments.

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  • Ted S.||#

    These bureaucrats were bought by other growers of Vidalia onions. Delbert Bland must have done something to piss them off.

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  • Almanian!||#

    Delbert Bland must have done something to piss them off.

    I'm guessing "exist"...

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  • Austrian Anarchy||#

    As a consumer I'll tell you those onions do not have much of a shelf life, or you have to do some sort of kitchen-foo that you don't need for other onions.

    They tend to liquefy just sitting in the bag in a dark cabinet. The later you get in the season, the worse it is.

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  • Rich||#

    Drying and other forms of onion preparation may take place prior to the packing date.

    You can't fool *me*, Baylen. That's from The Onion.

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  • Almanian!||#

    You peel back the genius that is Baylen one layer at a time.

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  • Almanian!||#

    Oh, also, as a bit of an onion lover, I fucking HATE Vidalia®&µ™ Onions. In order of "actually-good", the onion hierarchy is as follows:

    1) Spanish
    2) White
    3) Any other kind of onion that's not Vidalia®
    4) Vidalia®
    Your onions SUCK And taste like SHIT and detract from the taste of other foods, Georgia. Go scare up some pulled-pork BBQ - something you're actually good at in my experience.



    /rant

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  • Rich||#

    But how are they in deep-dish pizza?

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  • Almanian!||#

    Artisanal, home-brewed circumcision - that's the next topic.

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  • sticks||#

    Correct.

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  • Ted S.||#

    It's not just the US where these foods associated with a place cause absurdities. Tokay wine comes from the river valley of the same name, and is generally associated with Hungary. But the river starts in southern Slovakia, and Hungary was deeply unhappy that the vintners in the Slovak part of the Tokay valley wanted to call their wines Tokay.

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  • Almanian!||#

    There's the whole thing about Champagne only being from a certain part of France...whatevs. The best wine comes in a box and someone else buys it..

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  • Ted S.||#

    The best wine doesn't come in a jug? ;-)

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  • Rich||#

    Ho, ho, HO!

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  • Notorious G.K.C.||#

    I find it's best in a bottle wrapped in a paper bag, only fully appreciated if you chug it down in an alleyway.

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  • ||#

    Tons of that sort of stuff in Europe, like Parma ham.

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  • LynchPin1477||#

    So, Emma Stone or Blake Lively?

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  • sticks||#

    leighton meester.

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  • Austrian Anarchy||#

    "Idaho's Potato Commission proudly "collects a 12-cent tax per every 100 pounds of potatoes sold[.]""

    Isn't that about 4x what the mob collects on concrete in New York?

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