About the Black Currant Ban

"Forbidden" U.S. History of the Black Currant

Until April 2003, black currants had been referred to in the United States as the "forbidden fruit," since farming bans in several states prevented it from being harvested. As a result, this once-popular berry, not readily available in the U.S. for the past 100 years, fell out of favor in American diets.

How did all of this controversy begin to brew around one innocent berry? In 1705, Lord Weymouth shipped U.S. white pine seedlings to England and, as the tree spread across Europe, blister rust, a disease affecting these pines, appeared in Germany. Unaware of the cause, the United States began re-importing European white pine seedlings, since U.S. forests were being depleted. Unfortunately, the white pine disease came with them.

Plant pathologists demonstrated that this tree disease, which allegedly threatened the U.S. timber industry, did not jump from white pine to white pine, but from white pine to black currant bush to white pine. By 1911, U.S. regulations were passed which led to the farming ban of this once popular berry. Though based on incomplete scientific knowledge of the disease, the ban still stands today in several states.

Overturning the Ban in NY State

With these findings under his arm, Quinn began dialogs with many in the New York State Legislature (the law had been relegated to States jurisdiction in the 60’s during some federal legislative house cleaning). He was able to convince several States’ Senators to sponsor a bill to overturn the ban. With the help of Senator Larkin’s office, new legislation was drafted during which time Quinn lobbied the Assembly and the Senate.

The first vote in the Senate on the new bill to legalize the commercial cultivation of currants was passed unanimously and the following week, the Assembly also voted unanimously to adopt the new law. Five months later, Gov. Pataki signed the new bill into law, thus overturning the 100 year-old ban. The story captured the imagination of farmer and consumer alike. His efforts have been written about on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press and about 400 newspapers in several languages around the country as well as websites such as CBS Market Watch, CNN.com (with almost 17 million hits in one day). Since then Quinn and the Currant story has been recounted in numerous media outlets including a feature article in Reader’s Digest.

This may turn out to be an important boost for a sagging New York farming economy - one that sees several hundred small farms close each year. Black currants are extremely popular in Europe. One would consider this a billion-dollar berry commonly found in their teas, yogurts, vodkas, juices and jams. This is the hope for it in the United States.