SALINAS, Calif. (KION) Romain Lettuce: it's among the top crops in the Salinas Valley. People don't refer to the area as the "Salad Bowl of the World" for no reason.
"Canada is one of our biggest trading partners and traditionally has been a very big importer of our romaine lettuce," said Norm Groot, Executive Director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau.
It's because of this that local growers were shocked to find out recent news from Canada. The Canadian government is now asking growers to implement a number of additional requirements to prove their lettuce does not contain E. coli.
"This new requirement is after harvest. That means it's either in the boxes or packaged. It has to be tested again. That's a day or two delay. That affects the freshness of the product," said Groot.
Groot said the change could cause problems for growers. Many are nearing the end of the season, are ready to harvest and could face new expenses because of Canada's rules.
The requirements target farms in Santa Cruz, San Benito, Santa Clara and Monterey counties. Canadian officials claim the Central Coast is a primary source for "recurring" E. coli outbreaks.
The last local E. coli outbreak took place in November of 2019. "Compared to where we were last year at this time, I think the system has quite improved. There os more vigilance in the field as far as the scouting that is being done to determine if there are animal incursions and looking for bird strikes. There is also additional testing of water in the fields," said Groot.
Many farms in the Salinas Valley have already had a difficult year. They continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic and faced devastating wildfires.
Locals are hoping the business can continue to thrive through hardship. "I just worry about all the farmers and everybody in this community whose jobs and livelihood depend on agriculture to sustain their families," said Salinas resident, Peter Brown.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta plans to advocate for Salinas Valley growers and has contacted contacted the FDA and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) about the matter.
“As the representative of the ‘Salad Bowl of the World,’ I will continue do everything I can to fight these harmful requirements and ensure that safe Salinas Valley romaine has fair access to the Canadian market," said Panetta.