Pity the poor Rocky Ford cantaloupe, vilified across the country even though the listeria-inducing culprit actually came from Jensen Farms, a third-generation family operation in Holly, almost a hundred miles away from Rocky Ford.
But those farmers of southeastern Colorado have little recourse. Even though Colorado is the only state in which it's a crime to disparage a fruit or vegetable (twelve others states have less draconian measures protecting broccoli and the like from libel), the finger was first pointed at those Rocky Ford melons by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment -- and government agencies have immunity.
For the record, here's the revised (as of 1994) Colorado statute protecting food's reputation:
"It is unlawful for any person, firm, partnership, association or corporation or any servant, agent, employee, or officer thereof to destroy or cause to be destroyed, or to permit to decay or to become unfit for use or consumption, or to take, send, or cause to be transported out of this state so to be destroyed or permitted to decay, or knowingly to make any materially false statement, for the purpose of maintaining prices or establishing higher prices for the same, or for the purpose of limiting or diminishing the quantity thereof available for market, or for the purpose of procuring, or aiding in procuring, or establishing, or maintaining a monopoly in such articles or products, or for the purpose of in any manner restraining trade, any fruits, vegetables, grain, meats, or other articles or products ordinarily grown, raised, produced or used in any manner or to any extent as food for human beings or domestic animals."
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And while the Colorado health department later clarified that the federal Food and Drug Administration recall was only limited to melons from Jensen Farms, other grocery stores are still punishing Rocky Ford farmers. On Friday, for example, ALDI -- with more than 1,100 stores in this country, most between Kansas and the East Coast -- announced that it was voluntarily recalling "all fresh cantaloupes from the Rocky Ford, Colo. growing region....out of an abundance of caution and concern for our customers."
And also out of an abundance of concern -- likely for the bottom line -- the food-safety law firm of PritzkerOlsen has established a claims center for individuals and families who are harmed by the cantaloupe catastrophe.
Rocky Ford farmers not included.