Local romaine lettuce growers scored a big victory Thursday, Sept. 9, as U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, announced that the onerous testing protocols Canada implemented last year for romaine lettuce grown in Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and Santa Clara counties will no longer be in place.
Those rules—which required the lettuce to be tested after harvest specifically for E. coli in order for it to be imported into Canada—will expire Sept. 30, after which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency will allow lettuces tested pre-harvest to be imported for the remainder of the calendar year.
That's big news for the Salinas Valley: lettuces are routinely one of the top two most valuable crops in the region and its leading export crop, and Canada is the second leading export market for lettuces after Mexico.
"Last year, Canada’s food safety testing procedures were announced and implemented tumultuously, resulting in the loss of safe, healthy product from the Salinas Valley,” Panetta said in a statement. "I am glad that, after months of collaboration, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has worked with…our California growers to improve the testing process and ensure Salinas Valley leafy greens can travel across our borders to feed communities around the world."
Over the past year, the statement says, Panetta stressed the testing rules "amounted to a non-tariff barrier, violating the spirit of the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement."