Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary John R. Block caved in to political pressures from Sunkist Growers and conducted an illegal referendum in 1984 on "marketing orders" for navel and valencia oranges, a federal administrative law judge ruled.
The ruling issued by Agriculture Department Administrative Law Judge Victor Palmer nullifies Block's decision on a referendum by citrus growers on the marketing orders, but a USDA spokesman said the ruling would have no practical impact on citrus growers or consumers.
Palmer's decision, issued last Friday, said testimony showed officials of Sherman Oaks-based Sunkist, a co-operative of 6,000 growers in California and Arizona, pressured Block to change his mind about how the referendum would be conducted. Block, weary from the intense lobbying, finally did so after receiving a telephone call from the Sunkist president, testimony contended.
Oranges and some other agricultural products are subject to marketing orders that regulate the flow of fresh fruit to be marketed week by week to avoid gluts and shortages and to stabilize prices. The orders are subject to periodic amendments and votes by growers, and in 1984, 21 amendments to the navel and valencia orange rules were up for vote.