BOISE – The Food and Drug Administration is looking for the public to comment on a proposed food safety rule that would impact farmers across the country.
Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, a Republican representing Oregon’s Second Congressional District, stopped in Boise Friday before going to eastern Oregon to talk to local onion farmers about this very issue.
The proposed rules deal with irrigation water and how clean it should be. The rule as it is written now would make irrigation water be as clean as recreation water, and that could severely hurt the onion industry in western Idaho and eastern Oregon.
"The government agencies are taking those rules and they're not being smart, at least at this point about how they'd be implemented," said Walden.
The food safety law is meant to prevent salmonella and E. coli poisoning in our food, but Walden says agencies are grouping together vegetables that should not be grouped.
Walden says bulb onions and green onions should not be group.
"There's no evidence of salmonella being passed through dry onions, bulb onions," said Walden. "And so there isn't the food safety issue. You've got bureaucrats that want to lump everything together for their convenience and in so doing could have a traumatic effect, and an adverse one, on our growers."
Walden spent the day talking to onion growers getting feedback from them so he can pass on their worries back in Washington, D.C. The biggest issue he says is paying to treat the water.
"There's no way you could afford to treat agriculture water that we use out in this part of the West to recreational standards, and plus run it up and down the lines and the ditches and all, and get it to that level."
Walden says there's still time to try and get these rules changed, but we're talking only a few months.
"They're completely different and if the rules aren't changed, if the process isn't fixed before they take effect, you could have a devastating impact on our onion industry in Idaho and in Oregon," said Walden.
Onions aren't the only industry paying attention to this. Farmers of other crops take issue with these rules but for different reasons - even if their crop has no history of salmonella or E. coli.
"How worried do you think growers should be?" asked NewsChannel 7.
"I think they should be very concerned at this point, because when an agency gets its head in a certain direction it's hard to fix a problem. But if you get it before they actually finish the rules, before they're completely locked down, then there's a good opportunity," said Walden.
Potatoes, another huge industry in Idaho, are not really impacted by these rules because they are typically cooked before they are eaten.
The public comment period for these rules goes until Sept. 15. Final implementation of the rules will happen after the FDA evaluates the comments, so right now there is no clear time frame for when and how these rules will be implemented.
Another issue Walden addressed comes from a recent release from the Government Accountability Office. It released a report saying several states will miss the new Health Insurance Exchange deadline set for October 1st.
The report says there are 30 states that will not have the framework for the exchanges done by the October 1st deadline. Idaho should meet that deadline.
But Walden says problems go beyond that deadline; people still don't understand this law.
"I think they're very confused about what's going to happen with the president's healthcare law, Obamacare, as it rolls out," said Walden.
While only portions of the Affordable Health Care Act have been implemented, Walden says what's coming up this fall will surprise a lot of people.
"They'll believe the truth when it all rolls out this fall because it is going to be reality," said Walden.
The truth Walden is speaking about can be and has been debated. Things like whether insurance premiums will go up or down, whether people will need to get new physicians and whether people will be able to keep their current insurance plan.
"People are going to find out it's not everything it was cracked up to be and that the costs are going to go higher," said Walden.
With that unknown, Walden says he's talked with several business owners that are avoiding employing 50 people, or having part time workers more than 29.5 hours a week, all in fear of having to provide insurance. Even with the lingering questions, Walden says this program is moving forward.
"There's no indication from the administration that they either want to delay or think there's a need to delay. They continue to tell the Congress everything will be ready, everything will be up and running and people will like Obamacare. But you don't believe that? I'm suspect of that. I'm very suspect of that," said Walden.
The main reason Idaho will be able to make the October 1st deadline for the health insurance exchange is because it will borrow some software from the government for the first couple of months to run the program.