After nearly two years of discussion, the Department of Agriculture and the Washington onion industry have finally made a tentative agreement on new guidelines for the transportation of onion harvests across the sea.
Shippers and producers first demanded a review of seagoing regulations in 1998, after the Coast Guard announced that the centuries-old method of stockpiling onions in containers with screens in place of a door was dangerous. On the contrary, the producers argued, using a sealed-up box will cause a smelly nightmare.
New guidelines have hoped to find a compromise between the International Convention for Safe Containers and the habits of onion producers. They state that any container can be used to transport onions, regardless of how secure its doors are, if it was built before 1 June and is shipped on top of, or beneath, two empty containers. Newly constructed containers can be loaded anywhere if testing has proved them to be of sufficient strength even with one door missing.
Producers are still not entirely happy, however. They argue that the guidelines will cut into tight profit margins; because there are more old containers than new ones, there will be fewer sea-worthy containers for transporting onions. Jody Easterday, from Pasco based producer Easterday Farms, said: “We’re giving up orders because we can’t get enough ship space.”