Ruling paves way for sweet onion labels

11/10/2006 12:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

(Nov. 10) Grower-shippers of Vidalia sweet onions may put stickers on onions indicating they’ve been third-party certified for flavor, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Oct. 30.

In a unanimous decision, the court found that Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture, Tommy Irvin, may allow National Onion Labs Inc., Collins, Ga., to use Certified Sweet and Certified Extra Sweet labels.

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by several Georgia Vidalia onion growers, including the state’s largest Vidalia grower, Bland Farms LLC, Glennville.

Bland and other growers contend that onions packed under the Vidalia trademark are all sweet, and that National Onion Labs is confusing consumers with the extra certification.

This is just the latest legal setback for Georgia growers opposed to the flavor certification stickers. In April 2005, the Georgia Court of Appeals denied the growers’ request for a restraining order against National Onion Labs. And in March, Georgia’s Superior Court denied growers’ motion to force Irvin to ban the use of the lab’s trademarks.

“We have spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars and two years going around in circles rearguing the same point,” said David Burrell, president of National Onion Labs. “It absolutely, certainly should stop here.”

Delbert Bland, president of Bland Farms, said he wasn’t sure if he and other growers would pursue further legal action. He said the issue wasn’t as important as it originally seemed, and that he didn’t think whether Vidalia onions had the certified stickers or not made much difference to retailers.

“We made a lot more out of it than what it really was,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s worth fighting for, and I don’t know what our options are, if any.”



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