OMEGA — Being left with nearly $1 million in tomatoes he couldn’t ship was a disaster for vegetable grower Gibbs Patrick’s operation this year.

But the disaster didn’t come from a tornado or other weather anomaly, it was a man-made event, said the farmer whose operation is just over the Tift County line.

On Tuesday, Patrick discussed his plight with U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, who said he is looking into giving some relief to growers like Patrick who through no fault of their own suffered losses.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about raw tomatoes on June 7 that was not lifted until July 17.

Investigators have now identified jalapeño and serrano peppers grown, harvested or packed in Mexico as as “major vehicles” for the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, according to an Aug. 7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update. About 1,400 people were sickened by a strain of salmonella virus with the same genetic footprint, including 40 in Georgia.

“We have disaster programs that help people when it’s an act of God,” Marshall said of the warning that led to millions in losses for tomato and pepper growers. “We ought to have a program when it’s an act of government.”

One lesson reinforced by the fiasco is that the United States should make sure its trading partners have in place regulations that protect Americans from potentially dangerous agricultural products and that those regulations are enforced by those countries, Marshall said.

“One of the takeaways is we need to pay more attention to what’s coming in out of Mexico,” he said. “This scare commenced because salmonella was discovered on tomatoes and jalapeños, but those tomatoes and jalapeños came out of Mexico.”

Some in Congress have for years sought country-of-origin labeling, and Marshall said that some legislation dealing with the issue could become reality in the future.

“It keeps getting pushed back,” he said. “Each time we come up with a specific for implementing it, people shoot that through with holes.”

Patrick estimated his loss on tomatoes at $800,000 to $1 million. He also was unable to ship jalapeños for a week, which accounts for another $378,000 lost.

“I feel like the government ought to look at this like it’s a disaster,” he said. “I feel like the tomato growers, the jalapeño growers totally have had a disaster. It wasn’t a hail storm, it wasn’t an act of God; but it was from a human being in our U.S. government.”

Patrick, who has been in the business since 1974 and also grows greens, eggplant, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, squash, cucumbers and bell pepper, said there has never been a similar occurrence where a warning caused huge losses. He plants 20 acres of tomatoes in the spring and fall and 200 acres of jalapeños.

“I think with what I’ve heard from Congressman Marshall and some of the other congressmen and senators, they are willing to go to bat for us,” he said. “I hope this will give us some relief.”

In Colquitt County two other large growers also suffered losses on tomatoes in the $1 million range, extension agent Glenn Beard said.

“When you take a hit like that it’s hard to rebound,” he said. “That crop is so expensive to grow.”

Typical disaster payments do not cover a farmer’s entire loss but may help recoup the money he had in the crop and allow him to plant again, he said.

“I’m sure it won’t be dollar for dollar,” Beard said. “It never is. This is a little different so it (payments) may be a little different.”

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