From the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries:Alabama’s economy will suffer and the state’s food safety will be jeopardized if there are significant cuts in the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries’ general fund appropriation. This is the assessment of Commissioner John McMillan, who listed essential services performed by Ag Department inspectors and the specific areas of the state’s economy that will be impacted if the department’s budget is reduced by $1.2 million or more.
“The Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries is a complex state agency, one that has responsibilities that touch the lives of every Alabamian. Cutting our General Fund appropriation will have devastating consequences on the essential services we provide farmers and agribusinesses that contribute more than $70 billion a year to our state’s economy,” McMillan said.
“Our scope of work is large and varied, from inspecting the small scales at the grocery store to regulating the pesticide companies that provide termite inspection and treatment,” McMillan said. “The department’s laboratories are among essential services that budget cuts would jeopardize. These include a broad array of vital services, from testing for pesticide residue to thousands of tests performed by the department’s diagnostic labs on Alabama poultry and livestock.”
McMillan pointed out that Alabama is the nation’s second largest broiler producing state, generating directly and indirectly $15 billion a year for our state’s economy and employing some 86,000 workers. Every week 21.5 million Alabama broilers are processed. As required by the USDA, Alabama Ag Department labs test blood samples (including tests for Avian Influenza) taken from every flock produced in Alabama.
Case in point: Last year the department’s Hanceville lab, located in the heart of Alabama’s poultry industry, provided testing for Salmonella pullorum (8,968 tests annually), Mycoplasma (57,000 annually), Salmonella typing (7,000 annually). The lab also performs 3,473 avian necropsies per year. In addition, the lab processed 557 cattle cases, 87 whitetail deer cases, 4,162 necropsy microbiological tests, and 321 parasitology tests in a first line of defense against livestock and wildlife diseases.
“We have been asked by members of the Legislature to show how the department will be affected by a budget reduction as passed by the Alabama Senate in the first special session,” McMillan said. “That budget would reduce the department’s General Fund Appropriation from $9.6 million to $5.3 million, a reduction of nearly 50%. If that austere budget is passed the entire mission of the department will be in jeopardy.”
He reiterated that the department has been operating at the level funding range since the 37% General Fund reduction four years ago. “Any further cuts will damage our ability to operate effectively, forcing the shutdown of as many as three diagnostic labs, along with the State Seed Lab, Agricultural Compliance Section, and meat inspection services,” he said. “We live with austerity and practice it every day, but the deeper the cuts to our appropriation, the more we will be forced to curtail essential services.”
McMillan commended Alabama legislators for their help in previous years, including passing legislation that enabled the Department of Agriculture & Industries to operate more efficiently. “The Legislature has supported us in our efforts to reform and reorganize statutes that govern our operations,” McMillan noted.
The Alabama agriculture commissioner listed the impact of General Fund budget cuts for the state Department of Agriculture & Industries:
• Poultry. Closing of up to three of four poultry diagnostic laboratories (Hanceville, Boaz and Elba) would dramatically curtail operations and disrupt much of the state’s poultry industry, which accounts for 66% of Alabama’s agriculture direct sales.
• Meat Processing. Closure of the department’s meat inspection services would likely result in closure or severe cutbacks in production of many meat processing plants that are required to have an inspection by the department or USDA in order to sell their products across state lines. Of the 67 plants in Alabama that the state Ag Department now inspects, some 28 of them would potentially close or choose to no longer be inspected. This could eliminate 450 private sector jobs in Alabama’s meat processing industry, which generates $1.6 billion in annual sales. It would also have a negative effect on approximately 11,000 other Alabama workers whose jobs depend on the health of this industry. *
• Alabama State Seed Laboratory. The department’s seed lab analyzes for germination, purity and prohibited or restricted noxious weed seed, a regulatory action prescribed by Alabama law. The Alabama seed industry depends on the state seed lab to regulate and ensure seeds are inspected for quality and meet acceptable standards, which is essential to the profitability of Alabama farmers. McMillan noted that closure of the seed lab could increase the likelihood of “dumping” inferior seed, creating a hardship for Alabama farmers.
• Agricultural Compliance. This section, which has regulatory responsibility for inspection of seed, feed, fertilizer and liming materials, also may be eliminated due to budget cuts. Areas of the department impacted by the closing of Agricultural Compliance would include: the seed lab, State Chemical Lab, the Audits and Reports Section, and Stockyards and Brands Section, as well as Gins and Warehouses. All of these sections protect farmers, ranchers and consumers from exposure to substandard products and fraudulent practices.
* Source: Economic Impacts of Alabama’s Agricultural, Forestry, and Related Industries; A report by The Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, Auburn University, February 2013.
McMillan added that with Avian Influenza threatening much of the nation’s poultry industry, now would be the worst time to begin shutting down Alabama’s poultry labs and inspections.