Spinach Growers Debate What to Do with Crop

The concern over E. coli in spinach has broad economic implications for spinach growers, even those whose crops have not been linked to the outbreak. Dale Huss, vice president of production at spinach grower Ocean Mist, discusses his company's plans for its crop.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, hints from Washington of a compromise on the treatment of detainees.

CHADWICK: First, spinach. One person has actually died. More than 100 people are sick from eating spinach contaminated with E. coli bacteria.

BRAND: The spinach has been traced to growers in the Central Valley of California. The Food and Drug Administration is continuing to investigate. But the ramifications are felt among all spinach growers in California and across the country.

CHADWICK: Still, we're going to begin today with a California grower. Dale Huss is vice president of production at Ocean Mist Farms. Spinach from there has not been identified as carrying the E. coli bacteria. But, as Dale Huss told us a short while ago, it is their problem anyway. The crop is lost.

Mr. DALE HUSS (Vice President of Production, Ocean Mist): It'll be turned under. We're not going to be able to harvest spinach. Every - you know, all of our spinach orders essentially have stopped.

CHADWICK: You're going to plow it under?

Mr. HUSS: It'll be plowed under. That's correct. You know, so we're - again, I mean, we're responding to the market conditions. And we're certainly supportive of making sure that the food supply is as safe as it possibly can be.

But everybody's hurt up and down the line. It's just a very unfortunate, sad situation.

CHADWICK: Mr. Huss, can you explain to me why it is that the problem is just spinach? What is different about spinach? Why wouldn't people be concerned about, oh, various kinds of lettuce or carrots or other agricultural products?

Mr. HUSS: In this case the FDA appears to have tracked the outbreak back to certain spinach lots. And I don't know - I've heard bagged spinach and then they said all spinach.

Again, so we're confused by the message the FDA is sending. And we're just waiting in limbo trying to get things under control and so we can move forward with our business and doing what we can to really supply the nation with the safest food supply in the world, we believe.

There have been other outbreaks before with different crops. It's not just spinach. And in this particular case the FDA has focused on spinach.

CHADWICK: But you're saying there are farmers that you know in the Salinas Valley there who have a lot of spinach in the ground and there are no more orders for it, so people are going to plow it under.

Mr. HUSS: What I'm saying, Alex, is that the outbreaks have not been defined to the Salinas Valley. They've been defined to certain growers and certain labels, not necessarily in the Salinas Valley but in a few other valleys here in California as well.

The unfortunate thing is that this has affected growers of spinach across the country, because during the concern, everybody is pulling raw product off their shelves and it really doesn't matter where it's from. It could be from California. It could be from the Midwest. It could be from anyplace.

So the impacts of this are felt across the nation. It's just not here in California.

CHADWICK: Dale, what needs to happen in order to make this better?

Mr. HUSS: Well, we're - again, Alex, we're still waiting for the FDA to come down with something that is definitive. I mean, we'd certainly appreciate for them to define things and say, you know, we can get back to our normal business.

Certainly our concern, our first and primary concern, is to our consumers, our customers, making sure that they and their families are healthy and convinced that we continue to grow the safest fruit and vegetable crops in the world.

So I - I don't know. It's a complicated, complicated issue. And we're waiting for the FDA to show some leadership so we know where to go, because a lot of people's lives are just waiting. They're in limbo right now, from our harvesters, packers, everybody here that are working here in the offices. I mean, everybody's just waiting.

CHADWICK: Dale Huss, vice president of production at Ocean Mist Farms, speaking with us from Castroville, California. Dale, thank you.

Mr. HUSS: All right.

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