Extensive federal import restrictions on romaine lettuce and salad mixes from California’s Salinas Valley are an indication of problems in the U.S. agricultural system that supplies British Columbians with more than half their fresh vegetables.
Lawrence Goodridge, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety at the University of Guelph, says repeated outbreaks of E. coli contamination from American farms precipitated the move. “The problem is nobody quite knows how the lettuce is becoming contaminated,” Goodridge told princegeorgecitizen.com. “It could be the irrigation water, wild animals could run through the field and defecate. It’s hard to trace.”
Canada imported 183,300 tonnes of lettuce from the US last year, and 64 per cent of that was from California. The remainder came from Arizona, Ohio and Florida. Between June 2019 and July 2020, more than 50,000 shipments of the vegetable crossed the border.
Lettuce is not the only vegetable that’s mostly imported to Canada outside the summer months. In 2018, about $2 million worth of vegetables flowed north, everything from kohlrabi to kale. Like lettuce, the majority was grown in California or other southwestern states.
“The current temporary import requirements, implemented on Oct. 7, (are) a preventative measure due to the repetitive outbreaks linked to California romaine lettuce over the past four years,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said in an emailed statement.