According to the Alliance for Natural Health, the state of California's Almond Board, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, proposed an industry-wide "mandatory sterilization" rule in 2007 requiring all almonds, even those grown organically, to be pasteurized, in response to a string of salmonella outbreaks in 2001 and 2004 (as compared to, say, a rash of deaths caused by prescription drugs each year). 33 people became ill, but there were no deaths.
The Almond Board says five methods of "pasteurization" are allowed. They include: oil roasting, dry roasting, blanching, steam processing and, incredibly, the use of propylene oxide (PPO), which is, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, a "probable human carcinogen."
A sixth method involved irradiating the almonds, which was actually used for many years, the ANH said, but now the Almond Board says almond pasteurization no longer includes irradiation.
The ANH says the first three methods certainly cook the nuts, meaning they are no longer raw; of the last two methods, steam "causes a marked reduction in nutrient content and partially cooks the nuts." Then, of course, there is the PPO method, which uses an extremely volatile liquid that is also used in the making of polyurethane plastics. Yum.
A host of medical problems associated with PPO
In fact, PPO was once utilized as a racing fuel, but was actually banned by the National Hot Rod and American Motorcycle Racing associations for being too dangerous. It is so dangerous it's actually used in fuel-air bombs.
According to a material data safety sheet on PPO, there is this warning:
Causes gastrointestinal irritation with nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. May cause central nervous system depression, characterized by excitement, followed by headache, dizziness, drowsiness, and nausea. Advanced stages may cause collapse, unconsciousness, coma and possible death due to respiratory failure. Aspiration of material into the lungs may cause chemical pneumonitis, which may be fatal...May cause reproductive and fetal effects. Laboratory experiments have resulted in mutagenic effects. May cause heritable genetic damage.The Environmental Protection Agency is fully aware of the dangers of PPO as well. The agency says even short-term exposure to the chemical has caused irritation to the eyes and respiratory system, as well as to the skin. In addition, the agency notes the chemical is a mild central nervous system depressant and that it causes inflammatory nasal cavity, trachea and lung lesions.
In studies on animals, PPO is known to cause debilitating neurological effects that have led to tumors, causing the EPA to classify it as a class B2 carcinogen. The states of California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Massachusetts have listed it on their state right-to-know registries as a known carcinogen.
All in all then, for raw almonds, the choice is either to cook them or potentially make them toxic, the ANH said, noting there is a definite financial aspect to this issue.
"Steam treatments are running up to $2.5 million," the group said, "whereas PPO starts at $500,000. Which (method) do you think most farmers choose? Over 68 percent of almonds are treated with PPO."
Going to court
ANH goes on to say that organic almonds not treated with PPO may be pasteurized with steam. But the heat may oxidize the omega-3 fatty acids in almonds, which will potentially turn them rotten and create free radicals which are suspected of playing a role in the development of a host of other degenerative medical problems, including the development of cancer.
What's more, the ANH points out, "there is no labeling requirement to show that almonds have been steamed or treated with PPO, so consumers are misled into thinking they are eating truly raw almonds when in fact they are not.
"Labeling is an absolute necessity for consumers to make an informed choice," the group said.
ANH-USA has filed an Amicus Curiae brief to the US Court of Appeals, which is deciding a lawsuit between almond ranchers and the USDA. Plaintiffs seek to reverse the "almond rule."