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Regulators eye 'stop work' authority

CORVALLIS — Food manufacturers and pesticide applicators could be subject to "stop work" orders under new regulatory authority being considered by Oregon's farm regulators.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture may seek new regulatory power to halt specific unlawful actions that endanger public safety.

Currently, the agency can suspend or revoke the license of a food establishment or pesticide applicator that's violating the law, but such sanctions may be overkill in some situations, said Lauren Henderson, ODA's assistant director.

"We don't have anything that's specific to an activity. It's all or nothing," he said during this week's meeting of the Oregon Board of Agriculture in Corvallis.

Revoking a license or obtaining a temporary restraining order in court also involves fairly high legal hurdles, Henderson said.

Taking such drastic steps would be overly burdensome for the agency and the business in the case of minor violations, such as a faulty thermometer in a refrigerated meat cooler, he said.

Under the proposed "stop work" authority, the ODA could simply require a company to cease using that cooler until it's fixed, he said.

"We're looking at something very narrow and probably short-term," Henderson said.

At this point, the proposal is in a very early stage but the agency is considering it as a possible "legislative concept" for the 2017 legislative session, he said.

Henderson acknowledged the "stop work" idea has met with some trepidation among regulated companies.

"The industry as a whole is pretty nervous about us having that authority," he said.

Aside from possibly affecting pesticide applications, the proposal could impact on-farm processing, such dairymen who make farmstead cheese.

Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and board member, said companies should have a way to challenge a "stop work" order.

"I would caution you to put some sort of judicial mechanism in there, so if a grower or an owner takes issue with a stop work order, there is a quick way to get adjudication," he said.

The U.S. Department of Labor did not provide such recourse when it issued "hot goods" orders in 2012 that halted the sale of perishable fruit based on alleged labor violations, he said.

Krahmer said he would characterize the DOL's actions as "tyrannical" and he doesn't ever want to describe ODA that way.

Katy Coba, ODA's director, said the agency is still examining similar authority in other states and recognizes the importance of protecting due process while ensuring public safety.

"It's finding in statute the right balance," she said.