From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
The 2011 legislative session is now under way in Raleigh, with legislators having returned in late January. We know it is going to be a challenging session because of the budget. I wish the news was better, but lawmakers have tough decisions ahead of them.
It is not going to be easy to cut $3.5 billion from the state budget. There has already been a lot of talk debating the size and scope of government, and there will be plenty more to follow. I plan to work closely with the legislature and the governor to make sure they fully understand the work and services of the department.
As many of our longtime readers know, I am a strong advocate for the department and the services we provide. I was elected to represent the needs of the farming community in the state and to oversee the regulatory duties of our department.
I want to make sure everyone understands that when I talk about protecting our budget, I am also talking about protecting you the consumer, you the farmer and you the agribusiness owner.
I can give you a couple of specific examples of this. In 2010, inspectors with our Meat and Poultry Inspection Division oversaw inspection of 360 million pounds of meat and poultry products. Of that, a total of 23 tons of product were condemned as unsafe and removed from the marketplace. Those same inspectors also conducted 500 investigations into illegal slaughter and processing operations and detained more than a ton of misbranded or adulterated meat products.
Food safety is one of the top priorities of the department and as a parent and grandparent, I am happy that we have folks focused on ensuring safe food products, whether they are our Meat and Poultry inspectors, our Food and Drug inspectors or our Veterinary staff. Each one of these divisions has a specific role to play in food safety in this state from the farm, to the processing facility and to the store shelf.
Other areas where we are working on your behalf are at gas pumps and grocery stores. Our Standards Division examines around 120,000 fuel dispensers statewide. In 2010, we required corrective action on more than 9,000 dispensers. In addition, we issued more than $74,000 in penalties for excessive price scanner errors at grocery stores and other retailers.
The work of these inspec-tors helped ensure the accur-acy of price scanners and gas pumps for consumers. And trust me, people want to be sure they are getting what they pay for.
We are working to protect our environment through the soil testing work of our Agronomic Division. This saves farmers and homeowners money and helps ensure only the right amounts of nutrients are being added to the soil. Our soil lab analyzes more than 300,000 samples annually.
Overall the department's budget is less than three-tenths of one percent of the total state budget, and the services we provide cost North Carolinians less than 2 cents a day. I think that is a bargain when I think about all the ways our services impact people's lives.
Since 2000, we have cut 180 positions, a reduction of more than 10 percent. Another 47 positions are now paid for with receipts instead of tax dollars. This at the same time the overall state budget grew by 45 percent.
I believe the services we provide are critical to the wellbeing of our residents, our farm economy and even our state's economy.
Agriculture remains the leading industry in the state, generating $74 billion for the economy and employing 700,000 people.
Ensuring food safety is critical for public health, but it also critical to the health of the ag economy. We have seen countless examples in the past few years where a food recall has been devastating for all farmers producing that same food product, whether there was a direct link to the recalled product or not.
I believe we need to in-vest in agriculture through marketing and promotions so it remains an economic engine for the state.
I hope as you read this and think about the way the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services impacts your lives, you will agree with me that these are programs and services worth supporting.
I plan to make my case to legislators, but I know I will not be alone.