From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
I am proud of the services provided by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and I am especially proud to know the work we do on a day-to-day basis helps residents across the state.
I know when I first took office I was not aware of all the programs and rules that fell under the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' jurisdiction, but I certainly have a better understanding of that now.
Periodically, I'd like to share with you what services different divisions provide and how those services help consumers. Most importantly, I want you to know how to contact us if you wish to report a problem.
One of our more highly visible divisions is the Standards Division, which helps ensure fairness in trade by assuring the accuracy of weighing and measuring devices. Basically that means when you buy a gallon of something or half a pound of something, then you are going to get that amount of product. Or if a price is advertised at $1.99, you will pay $1.99 when you get to the register. Those are two examples of the work the division does.
Inspectors check gas pumps, price scanners, scales used in commerce, grain moisture meters, weights on certain commercial products, weighing and measuring devices used in manufacturing, LP gas installations and motor oil quality.
In fact in 2006, our inspectors found jet fuel that had accidentally been delivered to a store's kerosene tank, which could have had potentially devastating consequences had it not been found. Fortunately, we were able to stop the sale of that product before it reached consumers.
As you can imagine, this is a busy division, with inspectors stationed across the state.
It is important that we check these items so, as consumers, you get what you are paying for, and businesses can be sure their equipment is working properly. Think about the bathroom scales at home and how easily these get out of adjustment, and you'll understand why we need inspectors making the rounds at businesses to ensure fairness.
In 2006, nearly 50 stores were cited for excessive price-scanner errors, up considerably from previous years. But we see our work as also providing a service to businesses.
In today's competitive economy, consumers may decide not to shop in a store that routinely has scanner errors. Our inspectors also report errors that are in favor of the customer to store management as well, although they do not count against the company's overall rating.
While we check scales used in commerce, it is important to note that we do not inspect certain scales, such as those used in the produce section to let you know a general weight for grapes or peppers. We do inspect the ones used to weigh produce at cash registers and in the meat and seafood sections where a dollar value is determined.
Once a scale has passed inspection, we place a N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sticker on the scale. These are typically visible when you shop.
Similar stickers are placed on gas pumps once they have been inspected. At the pumps we are checking to be sure shoppers get a gallon of gas for a gallon paid. Fuel is also checked to ensure its quality, octane rating and other characteristics.
For grain growers and dealers, our Grain Moisture Section inspects moisture meters at grain buying stations to ensure accuracy and fairness. Moisture meters are one of the primary tools of the trade in buying and selling corn, soybeans and wheat. Buyers adjust payment to farmers based on the moisture content of grains. For example, high-moisture corn won't earn the same amount of money as corn falling in the normal moisture range, so it is important the moisture meters be calibrated correctly.
Aside from these normal inspections, staff members also annually check pine bark and mulch, fertilizer and scales associated with several different commodities. These inspections are done seasonally.
For example, beginning in February we'll be inspecting pine bark and mulch, followed by fertilizer in March. In April, strawberry and produce scales are inspected, while cotton scales are checked in September and October.
This does not cover everything our Standards Division does, but it covers a broad range of services this division provides.
Our Standards Division does respond to consumer calls. You may contact the division at (919) 733-3313 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.