Originally created 10/31/06

Onion labels left to chief



ATLANTA - Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin is not required to stop Vidalia onion growers from adding extra certification labels to their produce, the state's high court ruled Monday.

In a unanimous decision, the Georgia Supreme Court decided that it is the agriculture commissioner's choice whether to allow the labels, which some growers add after their crops have been tested to determine the sweetness of their Vidalia onions.

The labeling issue has been contentious among the onion farmers for several years, leading a group of growers to file the lawsuit arguing that Mr. Irvin was not upholding the Vidalia trademark he is charged with protecting.

In 1986, the state passed its Vidalia Onion Act, establishing the trademark and limiting the designation of the name to onions grown in only 20 counties, including Emanuel, Screven and Bulloch, where the soil conditions help produce the popular sweet onions.

National Onion Labs Inc., in Collins, began offering a scientific testing service to qualify onions for "Certified Sweet" or "Certified Extra Sweet" labeling.

The farmers who sued, headed up by the largest Vidalia onion grower, Bland Farms, and represented by former state Attorney General Michael Bowers, argued that the labeling is not required by Georgia's Vidalia law and leaves the impression with shoppers that Vidalia onions without the certification label are less sweet.

The growers contended that Mr. Irvin had the duty to stop the certification labels.

The Supreme Court justices disagreed that the requirement was part of the state law.