(Onions on the top are from Stanley Farms, Vidalia, GA, and are being investigated. The onions on the bottom row are marketed and sold by Shuman Produce in Reidsville, GA.)
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black and officials from the Federal-State Inspection Service met May 7 with Vidalia onion growers to hear allegations from growers that Stanley Farms recently processed as many as 400 truckloads of conventional yellow Florida onions at the same facility where it processes Vidalias without separating the two as required by law, an infraction that carries a fine of $5,000 per incident up to $20,000.
Stanley Farms, a Vidalia, GA, onion facility was acquired last year by interests connected to billionaire Bill Gates.
Growers at the meeting also raised allegations that Stanley may have packed those yellow onions as Vidalias. According to statute 2-13-134 of the Vidalia Onion act of 1986, misrepresenting other onions as Vidalias is a felony carrying potential punitive measures consisting of a fine of not less than $1,000 nor more than $5,000 or by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than three years, or both.
“That’s what hurts us, is for anybody to think we would do anything to hurt the Vidalia image,” Brian Stanley, company sales manager, said. “It’s a tough situation and that’s why we’re ready to get all the information out there and let them look at it and be transparent with it. They’ll see that we’d never in any way want to hurt Vidalia’s heritage. We want to get it behind us as quickly as possible. Whenever the department looks through all this, hopefully we can get it behind us very rapidly so we can move on. We’ve just got to get that information to the right people, then we can talk about it soon.”
At issue is the ferociously defended Vidalia trademark. Over two decades ago Vidalia growers were granted a federal marketing order protecting their crop from fraud. Stringent rules apply to the packaging and labeling of Vidalia onions, including prohibitions against comingling Vidalias with other onions in a processing facility or misrepresenting any other onion as a Vidalia.
Vidalia onions – grossing about $3500 to New York City.