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Black "Out of Bounds" on Onion, Will Appeal
Monday, 24 March 2014

March 24, 7 p.m. Update:  The state is appealing the court decision against the Georgia Department of Agriculture regarding the ship date each year of Sweet Vidalia Onions.  The following statement was released late Monday by Ag Commissioner Gary Black.  See also the story on court's ruling following the Commissioner's statement.

“We are disappointed in the ruling we received late last week regarding the Vidalia onion pack date.  The Attorney General’s office filed an appeal on our behalf today. We believe the packing rule does not in anyway conflict with the provisions of the Vidalia Onion Act. 

Lost in this discussion is it is the sole responsibility of the Commissioner to protect the integrity of the Vidalia onion trademark, a trademark registered to the Georgia Department of Agriculture

Lost in this discussion is that the Commissioner is authorized to establish rules in order to protect this trademark.

Lost in this discussion is that the Georgia Department of Agriculture has worked with the Vidalia onion industry for 18 months to establish a pack date and the majority of the growers are in favor of this rule.  We look forward to the consideration of these facts during the appeals process.”


[1] O.C.G.A § 2-14-132.1 states “The Commissioner of Agriculture is authorized to take all actions necessary and appropriate to create, register, license, promote, and protect a trademark, for use on or in connection with the sale or promotion of Vidalia onions and products containing Vidalia Onions.” 

[2] O.C.G.A § 2-14-133 states, “The Commissioner is authorized to prescribe rules or regulations which may include, but not necessarily be limited to quality standards, grades, packing, handling, labeling, and marketing practices for all the marketing of onions in this state.”
 
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March 24--  A judge says Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black was out of bounds when he attempted to set the shipping date for Vidalia Onions.  A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a Tattnall County farmer who took Black to court, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

"State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black overstepped his authority when he changed rules last year to give himself the authority to determine when the state’s prized Vidalia Sweet Onion crop can be harvested and shipped, a judge ruled this week.

Judge Cynthia Wright, of the Superior Court of Fulton County, ruled state law gives Black the authority to determine packing rules, such as the materials or containers that can be used in packaging, but not decide when the onions can be shipped.

“We have received the ruling and the [state] attorney general is reviewing the court’s order,” said Mary Yearta, the commissioner’s spokeswoman.

Delbert Bland, owner of Bland Farms, sued Black and his department, arguing state law did not give him the authority to establish shipping dates for the Vidalia onion.

In a statement, Bland said the ruling means “Mother Nature will decide when our Vidalia Sweet Onions are ready to ship, not an arbitrary date on the calendar.” Bland’s lawyer, Mike Bowers, later said Bland Farms “is extremely pleased with the order.”

To combat fears that Vidalia onions were not as sweet as they should be and to address other quality concerns possibly due to premature harvesting, Black last August mandated the last week of April as the earliest the onion may be harvested and packed, giving the crop 10 to 15 additional days in ground to improve its quality.

The onion, which is protected by a federal trademark and state law, is known for its signature wide, flat shape and sweetness when eaten raw. The crop is grown in a 20-county region and has an estimated $150 million annual economic impact.

Before Black changed the rules, growers could ship their crop if the onions carried a federal-state inspection certificate certifying the onions had met established grade requirements. Bland Farms had regularly shipped its onions with such a stamp of approval.

The judge ruled Black sidestepped the state Legislature when he gave himself the authority to establish a shipping date and was “not authorized to enlarge the scope” the state law that determined his oversight."

 

 
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