Vidalia® Onion Fight Highlights Absurdity of Many State Food® Rules

The nation's largest grower of Vidalia® onions is fighting-and flaunting-a Georgia state law that says he can't ship onions until the state says so. Why do Georgia and other states have dumb laws like these on the books?


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It's hardly surprising that the Farm Bill passed this year by Congress is a bloated and idiotic boondoggle. I'm one of many who's written thousands of words on the topic.

But lost perhaps amidst the focus on Congress's role in (mis)shaping American agriculture are less newsworthy state laws that have similarly nefarious impact on farmers and consumers alike.

Take Georgia's Vidalia® Onion Committee (yes, "Vidalia® Onion" is a registered trademark). That's right. The state has a Vidalia® Onion Committee. The stated role of the commission is "to jointly fund research and promotional programs." The committee has been in the new recently thanks to a court case challenging rules it established that mandate specific shipment and marketing dates for Vidalia onions.

Specifically, the Georgia rules state that packing and marketing of Vidalia onions "shall commence no sooner than 12:01 AM on the Monday of the last full week of April, each year."

What happens on the off chance that weather conditions—which are, er, sometimes known to figure into agriculture—play more of a role in determining when a crop is ready than are those unbending regulations? What happens if your crop is ready earlier than the regulations allow? Tough luck.

The nation's largest Vidalia onion grower, Delbert Bland, has the gall to think he might know better than do the onion commissioners what date he should ship his onions. So he did just that.

"Instead of shipping out their onions on April 21, a date set by the state for this year as a way to protect the Vidalia brand and to keep the playing field level, the growers wanted to send out some onions early," reports the New York Times.

So the state fined him. As a result, Bland sued.

What's behind this fight? Georgia insists its uniform start date "assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards," Commissioner Gary W. Black said in 2013. "Onions that are harvested and shipped too early and do not meet the grade requirements can damage the reputation of this important crop."

Indeed, last year's "Vidalia onion harvest reportedly produced some immature onions, and Black aims to prevent that from happening again," reports the Southeast Farm Press (in a post worth reading for the Paul Masson reference alone).

Hence the new "packing date" law, which took effect in August.

While Bland won the first round in court, the state appealed.

It also went on the offensive. The Vidalia Onion Commission charmed a group of "national food bloggers and key media people" on a recent tour.

The state also warned Vidalia "growers that the [packing date] rule remains in effect while the state appeals."

But that didn't stop Bland from flouting the rule.

Bland told the AP that he shipped "his crop early to supermarkets in defiance of the state agriculture commissioner."

The existence of rules like those that handcuff many Georgia Vidalia farmers aren't new and are by no means restricted to Georgia. Take, for example, a California law that mandates that the fat content of all avocados must be at least eight percent.

Idaho's Potato Commission proudly "collects a 12-cent tax per every 100 pounds of potatoes sold[.]"

The Idaho commission, in turn, issues mandatory guidelines for potato growers and packers in the state.

"When labeling or identifying Idaho potatoes," the guidelines state, "Idaho must be followed by the registration mark, as in Idaho® potatoes."

But the breadth of these state food® commissions and laws doesn't add anything to their appeal.

While Bland's appeal of the Georgia Vidalia rule doesn't have express national implications—it was filed in state court—a victory for Bland and his fellow farmers could make Georgia and other states think twice before enacting still more stringent rules for farmers. That could make victory for Vidalia® farmers sweet news for all Americans.

NEXT: Tonight, on a Can't Miss Episode of The Independents: Paul Wolfowitz, Tom Ridge, and John Bolton Get Interrogated on Foreign Policy (Bumped/Updated)

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  1. Georgia insists its uniform start date “assures the quality of the onions and that they have matured to meet the marketing standards,” Commissioner Gary W. Black said in 2013.

    Cause bureaucrats and politicians ALWAYS know more about growing a particular crop than the farmers whose livelihoods depend on it.

    Top. Men.

    Fuck. All. Governments.

    1. These bureaucrats were bought by other growers of Vidalia onions. Delbert Bland must have done something to piss them off.

      1. Delbert Bland must have done something to piss them off.

        I’m guessing “exist”…

      2. The question I have in mind is, is the “Vidalia” brand just a brand name, or is it a name for a genetically distinct particular onion variety?

        If it’s just a brand name, then there shouldn’t be any problem with restricting it’s use. Bland isn’t being forced to use the “Vidalia” brand label. He can market his onions as “yellow onions”.

        1. IIRC, it’s not a genetic variant as much as where they are grown. The soil in certain select counties in Georgia has lower sulfur content so the onions are relatively sweet. You can grow them elsewhere (I grew some in Kansas City) but they are definitely not the same.

          1. From what I understand, it’s a specific loam in the Vidalia, Georgia area. You can plant the same onions in another area and they will not taste right.

    2. As a consumer I’ll tell you those onions do not have much of a shelf life, or you have to do some sort of kitchen-foo that you don’t need for other onions.

      They tend to liquefy just sitting in the bag in a dark cabinet. The later you get in the season, the worse it is.

      1. And they lose their sweetness if stored long before eaten and become just another rank storage onion.

      2. When I buy Vidalia, I expect to use it that day. To think even onions the government meddles in is something else I tell ya.

        Yellow or red onions I keep in the pantry. I like cooking with red.

      3. My grandmother always kept them in panty hose. Drop one down to the toe, tie a knot. Drop the next one in, tie a knot. Once they were all in, she would hang them on the back porch. They would last for quite a while with no pressure points and air all around.

  2. Drying and other forms of onion preparation may take place prior to the packing date.

    You can’t fool *me*, Baylen. That’s from The Onion.

    1. You peel back the genius that is Baylen one layer at a time.

  3. Oh, also, as a bit of an onion lover, I fucking HATE Vidalia?&?? Onions. In order of “actually-good”, the onion hierarchy is as follows:

    1) Spanish
    2) White
    3) Any other kind of onion that’s not Vidalia?
    4) Vidalia?
    Your onions SUCK And taste like SHIT and detract from the taste of other foods, Georgia. Go scare up some pulled-pork BBQ – something you’re actually good at in my experience.


    1. But how are they in deep-dish pizza?

      1. Artisanal, home-brewed circumcision – that’s the next topic.

        1. home-brewed circumcision

          That’s what you’ll drive people to if you ban hospital circumcisions.

          You’ll have unapproved circumcision “kits” popping up everywhere. Many will be manufactured in remote, backwoods locations and shipped (via a big black Dodge) to underground, Jewish, black market, syndicates for distribution to the masses.

    2. Correct.

    3. The white onions I’ve bought don’t seem as tasty as the yellow onions.

      The big two secrets of vegetables are:

      1) Get some variety not meant to be shipped thousands of miles, since the ability to ship well and to be tasty are mutually exclusive.

      2) Fresher is better. Picked from the fields and eaten within hours is best.

      1. That’s pretty much it. Fresh has to be eaten within a day or two.

        I like buying fresh white onions. They tend to be less harsh in a salad.

    4. I agree. I use onions a lot in cooking, and I don’t really like Vidalia onions.

      I pretty much use:

      1. White or Spanish – anything with fresh onion, such as salsa, also preferred for cooking
      2. Red onions – exclusively for salads
      3. Yellow or Vidalia – second tier choice for cooking only

      1. We typically do not eat Vidalia onions cooked. Sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, or just cut it and eat it. I like them cold.

    5. 1) Sweet Maui Onions. There is no #2.

  4. It’s not just the US where these foods associated with a place cause absurdities. Tokay wine comes from the river valley of the same name, and is generally associated with Hungary. But the river starts in southern Slovakia, and Hungary was deeply unhappy that the vintners in the Slovak part of the Tokay valley wanted to call their wines Tokay.

    1. There’s the whole thing about Champagne only being from a certain part of France…whatevs. The best wine comes in a box and someone else buys it..

      1. The best wine doesn’t come in a jug? 😉

        1. Ho, ho, HO!

        2. I find it’s best in a bottle wrapped in a paper bag, only fully appreciated if you chug it down in an alleyway.

          1. That’s usually not wine, unless you’re in france.

      2. Tons of that sort of stuff in Europe, like Parma ham.

  5. So, Emma Stone or Blake Lively?

    1. leighton meester.

      1. “Hey, Meester, do you have a seester?”

      2. I guess so, if you like someone who just sort of blends into the background of generic hot chicks.

        1. Um like Emma and Blake?

          1. Blasphemy! Emma and Blake stand out in a crowd.

    2. yes, please

    3. I can’t get past Emma Stone’s weird, lizard-like lower jaw. It’s kind of hinged like a ventriloquist dummy or something.

  6. “Idaho’s Potato Commission proudly “collects a 12-cent tax per every 100 pounds of potatoes sold[.]””

    Isn’t that about 4x what the mob collects on concrete in New York?

  7. Hey what in the hell were you people doing last night? Associating Rollo to The Lizard people? Tha Fuk?

  8. It’s difficult for me to finish reading articles that haven’t been put through basic proofreading for spelling and grammar.

    1. Cool story, bro.

  9. As a sweet yellow onion lover, my personal ranking is as follows:
    1. Walla Walla Sweets. Nothing smells quite as good on the grill. *drools*
    2. Vidalia (the quality of onion available in my state is quite good)
    3. Texas 1015 or the Hawaiian Sweet
    4. Mayan Sweet, only during the winter
    5. Whatever is grown locally; these tend to not be the sweetest, but are serviceable, in a pinch.

    1. I have to be on the look out for these. I don’t think I have seen any except Vidalia.

      1. Walla Walla grown in Washington
        Vidalia – Georgia
        Texas 1015 – Texas
        Maui – Hawaii
        Mayan – Chile and sometimes Mexico

        They aren’t available year round,of course. I’m gonna have to try Harvard’s suggestion with a regular Spanish yellow onion. Chemistry, FTW.

    2. Any raw onion. Slice. Immerse in cold water. Add two tblsp salt. Add 1/4 cup vinegar. Soak 15 minutes. Rinse and serve your mild Vidalia type onions. At half the price.

      1. Copy/pasted this.

        Any type of vinegar?

  10. There is a dude that knows exactly what time it is. WOw.

  11. Such stupidity. It’s as if the Gov knows nothing if our beautiful FREE MARKET. If farmers want to risk pushing bad product like immature onions then they risk losing money. Put bad onions next to good on a shelf and we’re going to buy the better product. In other words he’ll lose money not the entire onion commission. Bad product doesn’t tarnish good, it helps quality on its own without bureaucratic arm chair farmers.

  12. Are the people worthy of Hillary?

    “Over the 25 years Hillary Clinton has spent in the national spotlight, she’s been smeared and stereotyped, the subject of dozens of over-hyped or downright fictional stories and books alleging, among other things, that she is a lesbian, a Black Widow killer who offed Vincent Foster then led an unprecedented coverup, a pathological liar, a real estate swindler, a Commie, a harridan. Every aspect of her personal life has been ransacked; there’s no part of her 5-foot-7-inch body that hasn’t come under microscopic scrutiny, from her ankles to her neckline to her myopic blue eyes?not to mention the ever-changing parade of hairstyles that friends say reflects creative restlessness and enemies read as a symbol of somebody who doesn’t stand for anything.

    “Forget all that troubled history, and a Clinton run for president in 2016 seems like a no-brainer, an inevitable next step after the redemption of her past few years as a well-regarded, if not quite historic, secretary of state. But remember the record, and you’ll understand why Clinton, although rested, rich and seemingly ready, has yet to commit to a presidential race (people around her insist it’s not greater than a 50-50 proposition), even as she’s an overwhelming favorite.”…..2T5EfldVUB

    1. “As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.”

      1. And, besides, she’s the one who alerted us to the “vast, right-wing conspiracy!”
        (and why that doesn’t get thrown in her face at least once a day is beyond me)

      2. So you could almost say there was a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy against her?

        1. Goddammit. I gotta start refreshing the page before I post.

    2. …”as a well-regarded, if not quite historic, secretary of state.”…

      Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

    3. What difference, at this point, does it make?

  13. Condoleeza Rice decides not to be honored at the Rutgers commencement. She exhibits class which Ayaan Hirsi Ali can only dream of:

    “Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration for the graduates and their families. Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community at this very special time.

    “I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. These values are essential to the health of our democracy. But that is not what is at issue here. As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as it’s former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way.

    “Good luck to the graduates and congratulations to the families, friends and loved ones who will gather to honor them.”…..-nro-staff

    1. Yes, roll over like a good dog, that’s the way.

      1. What? She’s right – it’s not about “free speech,” it’s about honoring the graduates. If the progs want to obtrude politics into the ceremony, that’s no reason for Rice to lower herself to their level and spoil a glorious day for the students with a nasty political fight. She behaved honorably.

        1. Nothing more honorable than allowing yourself to be cowed into silence by the petty trifles of political opponents. Truly the mark of a statesman and gentleman.

          1. Also, of course it’s not an issue of free speech, a point that was never in contention with the Ali commencement thing you’re apparently still hung up on. It’s an issue of being a giant pussy and letting yourself be bullied into silence by a vocal minority. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with doing that for the sake of your reputation, or your future political prospects, or even some bullshit about TEH CHILDRENZ. But it’s not particularly honorable.

            1. “of course it’s not an issue of free speech, a point that was never in contention with the Ali commencement thing”

              The pro-Ali talking points *did* include the free speech red herring:

              Ali herself said: “The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here.”


              One of her supporters said: “it’s deplorable that free inquiry and free expression take such a backseat to ingrained political doctrine here”


              And so on.

              1. Not to mention that several Ali stories are here filed under “Free Speech Silenced.”


                So yes, the “free speech” red herring was “in contention,” and Rice’s statement shows that meme was bullshit.

                1. Ali herself said: “The “spirit of free expression” referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled here.”

                  And as was repeatedly pointed out to you at the time, a college’s policy of a “spirit of free expression” != “free speech rights”, which is what you were harping on between bouts of pants shitting about closing religious schools. There is no inconsistency in saying that a college violated its own largely bullshit policy of “free expression” but that it didn’t violate anyone’s right to free speech.

                  I can see why it’s so difficult for you to consistently argue this issue at Reason though, since all of your sources point to completely unrelated websites, featuring arguments never made at Reason or by anyone in the Reason commentariat. If you’d have let us know previously that you were substituting Pamela Geller’s opinion for anything you were actually reading or replying to at this website it would have made the conversation a lot more clear.

                  Even setting all that aside though, I’m not sure how you think Rice slinking away from a speaking engagement, almost assuredly at the behest of the university behind closed doors, due to the whinging of political partisans refutes the idea that colleges may not actually be the bastions of free expression they claim to be. Try to remember, your original contention was that it was classy for Rice to slink away, not that it proved Rutgers is a champion of free speech.

          2. They do, after all, want the commencement proceedings to be memorable.

  14. I actually get that a company would want to protect their brand. So the company could sue the guy over noncompliance to contract terms. But the state should not be part of it.

    Beyond this, a simpler solution is to not allow the farmer who breaks the rules to use the brand name on any of those shipments, therefore devaluing them. Heck, let them start their own brand.

    As far as Idaho… I hope that doesn’t mean all potatoes from Idaho fall under that brand, and thusly, taxes, restrictions, mandates.

    Back off, government.

    1. I actually get that a company would want to protect their brand. So the company could sue the guy over noncompliance to contract terms. But the state should not be part of it.

      That’s the crux of the whole issue though – the trademark is owned and operated by the state, not a private entity, or even a public-private consortium.

      In 1986, the Vidalia Onion Trademark Act granted a state trademark and protection on the onions of the Vidalia and Toombs County, Georgia area. The 1989 Federal Marketing Order #955 of the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service gave the growers and handlers the legal rights to establish the Vidalia Onion Committee, and it granted U.S. federal protection of the onion’s name and production.…..ia#Economy

    2. I agree with this. There should be contractual agreement that if he wants to use the Vidalia brand name, then he has to agree to the terms.

      Otherwise, he can just market his onions as “Sweet yellow onions”.

      1. yeah, looks to be about the long and short of it. The only other constitutional issue is the more common one of federal agencies making rules that have the force of law without the law actually being passed by the congressional process

  15. You-Know-Who has a derpgasm

    On Wednesday, I wrapped up the class I’ve been teaching all semester: “The Great Recession: Causes and Consequences.” (Slides for the lectures are available via my blog.) And while teaching the course was fun, I found myself turning at the end to an agonizing question: Why, at the moment it was most needed and could have done the most good, did economics fail?

    I don’t mean that economics was useless to policy makers. On the contrary, the discipline has had a lot to offer. While it’s true that few economists saw the crisis coming ? mainly, I’d argue, because few realized how fragile our deregulated financial system had become, and how vulnerable debt-burdened families were to a plunge in housing prices ? the clean little secret of recent years is that, since the fall of Lehman Brothers, basic textbook macroeconomics has performed very well.

    It was the deregulation what done it.

    Milton Friedman, in the parlor, with a cross of gold.

    1. At least in one book (IIRC, Money Mischief), Milton Friedman supported a bimetallic standard, so he was not so keen on single commodity money.

      So more like Uncle Milton in the parlor with a gold and siver candlestick.

      but cross of gold is more poetic and a better allusion.

  16. Meanwhile, powerful political factions find that bad economic analysis serves their objectives. Most obviously, people whose real goal is dismantling the social safety net have found promoting deficit panic an effective way to push their agenda. And such people have been aided and abetted by what I’ve come to think of as the trahison des nerds ? the willingness of some economists to come up with analyses that tell powerful people what they want to hear, whether it’s that slashing government spending is actually expansionary, because of confidence, or that government debt somehow has dire effects on economic growth even if interest rates stay low.


    1. the willingness of some economists to come up with analyses that tell powerful people what they want to hear

      Regal Entertainment Group doesn’t project this much.

  17. There is something inherently creepy about a state “branding” an onion variety and using that as a marketing gimmick, IMO.

    I’ve never understood what the fuss was about Vidalia onions anyway. They are just a slight variation on yellow onions. I prefer white onions for cooking.

    However, if Vidalia is really a legitimate “brand” then it’s fair to say that if you want to use the brand name, then you have to adhere to certain rules. Farmers that don’t… can just not market their crop as “vidalia” onions. Just call them “yellow onions”, and you’re fine. It’s the use of the word “Vidalia” that gets you in trouble.

    That being said … is the “Vidalia” trademark legitimate? That is, does the vidalia (small v) variety really exist as a unique genetic onion type, or is it just a brand name for onions from a particular place? If the former, how can the government just seize the right to “own” the Vidalia name? If the latter … there’s no problem with this, farmers just can’t use the brand name.

    1. That being said … is the “Vidalia” trademark legitimate? That is, does the vidalia (small v) variety really exist as a unique genetic onion type, or is it just a brand name for onions from a particular place? If the former, how can the government just seize the right to “own” the Vidalia name?

      See this post

  18. For a look at a lawyer’s paradise, check out the map of Napa/Sonoma wine ‘regions’, and imagine what percentage of grapes must come from what region to qualify.
    Fun for all age groups!…..tedIndex=0

    1. It’s always been a unique irony of wine snobbery to me that the difference in the tasting characteristics of grapes from various regions is so distinct and refined that it must be properly labeled on the bottle so that you can actually perceive it…

      1. I’ll have a ‘Merlot’ means shit.

        I like wine and have a decent understanding of it but whenever I hear people shout the grape it strikes me more as snobbery or just plain silliness. It’s like saying I’ll have the Honeycrsip for apple juice. It’s almost meaningless.

        I’ll have the Nebbiolo! Dumb.

  19. If it’s not an Onion? grown in my garden then it’s not a real Onion?.

  20. I hate onions with the burning hatred of a googolplex to the power of googolplex of hypernovae.*

    I bought Vidalias when they were available in 2013. Someone who was cooking for me had put onions on the shopping list. I had heard that onion lovers liked them, and a 5lb bag was on sale, so what the hell.

    I was actually able to eat some of the onion. Usually a sliver of onion activates my gag reflex, no matter how you prepare it. Vidalias have something going for them.

    Hell of a slogan:

    Vidalia Onions?: Much less puke-inducing!

    Kevin R

    * html superscript tag not supported? Boo, Hiss!

  21. who owns the Vidalia trademark? Who owns the plant patent, for that matter? Without a plant patent (for example if it’s expired), how can a claimed differentiation hold up in court? The patent is the only real way the government recognizes plant varieties. How can the government set law for just one trademark/variety of onion?

    I don’t get it. I suspect this law may be illegal on the most basic ground, like insufficiently vague.

  22. This was covered over at State Sight like 3 weeks ago.…..egulation/

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