Friday, February 17, 2017

Alaska Ag.....The Juneau Games

With the legislature gaveling into session, agriculture interests have hopped on planes for Juneau to plead with representatives, senators, and various committees.  

You'd have be on the outside looking in, to get the full picture of what is occurring right now. 

Follow along carefully, please.

There are private individuals who have arranged their own meetings and attendance at various hearings, private gatherings and so on.

There are representatives of various ag related groups down there also, and they are doing the same. Attending meetings, presenting information, and schmoozing whoever they can.

And there is, of course, the Division of Ag representatives who flew south to represent their views, plead for funding, and are attempting to polish the turd.

Putting aside the amazing coincidence of verbatim talking points between the Division of Ag and the Alaska Farm Bureau, there is this:

The Division of Agriculture is asking the Legislature to move the State Veterinarian (office, personnel, duties) to the Division. 

The Division does not have the statutory authority for that program, and appear to have misled both the governor's office and a legislative committee about it.  

Now, for the uniformed, the request seems reasonable and I have no doubt Director Keyes put a bright, shiny object up for the committees to consider.  After all, aren't veterinarians and agriculture basically connected?  Farms=animals, which equals agriculture, correct?

That supposition is so far from the truth here, it is literally laughable.

The takeover of the state veterinarian office, to the Div of Ag, is about money, power, and trying to gain credibility (something their own program sadly lacks), by taking it from another agency that has some. And of course, they'll take their federal and state grant monies and additional staff too, please. 

The State Vet's office isn't about traditional animal husbandry issues related to ag production.  But of course, the Division of Agriculture Director does not realize, or recognize, the entire scope of responsibility. Their (Div of Ag) actual focus is more likely to be snaring the Vet's office's programs - FSMA, Veterinary and animal health, and the fish contaminants monitoring program.....which represent grant money, security, and staff.

In fact, the Div of Ag has advertised, and is hiring, someone to take on management of "FSMA". FSMA is actually a broad federal law that allows for the development of numerous federal regulations, including manufactured food safety, produce safety, import inspections, transportation of human and animal food, and several others, the functions of most of which are apparently under the statutory authority of DEC at the state level.

The fact that the Div of Ag continually refers to the Produce Safety Rule as "FSMA" is like calling the State of Alaska Wastewater regulations "EPA" (The Environmental Protection Act). That in itself points to the fact that the Div of Ag Director appears quite unfamiliar with the FSMA law. The one and only person in the state (and former Ag staff member) who supposedly was familiar with and involved with the FSMA and Produce Safety Rule for the past several years has reportedly resigned (and is now apparently at the State Vet's office of DEC, the department that has the authority to manage and enforce FSMA Produce Safety Rule, along with all the food safety oversight in the State of Alaska). And, no joke-the Director of Ag was, until he sniffed FSMA grant money, probably THE most outspoken critic of FSMA, and called publicly for an exemption from the new federal law for the whole state. You have to wonder how good a job he would do of advocating for and enforcing the law he so disdains, and whether the FDA would even agree to fund the state grant if it was moved to his agency.

The Division of Agriculture does not have the statutory authority to oversee or manage food safety, period. Food safety in the state of Alaska is the responsibility of DEC, for good reason. 

It sounds like staff at the Div of Ag may have even went so far as to present misinformation to the Governor and the legislature. A recent justification (written for the Governor's office) for a new position at the Div of Ag, for a "FSMA Program Coodinator", who, it appears is being hired to manage the program, states that there is a "plan" to move the FSMA program and grant money, from DEC to the Div of Ag. This is *not* true. At legislative budget committee hearings, the Director of Ag claimed multiple food safety classes were held by the Div of Ag staff in 2016. The person who taught those classes has apparently not worked for the Div of Ag for a couple of years, and there is no record of any food safety classes announcements for 2016, or of any ag producers who have said they attended one. Never the less, the Div of Ag director claimed to the legislative budget committee that 150 farmers had attended 15 of these classes in 2016. Also questionable is the number of inspections the Ag Director testified to the House Budget Committee that they performed in 2016. It sounds really unlikely that those inspection numbers are correct, unless the Div of Ag defines "inspection" REALLY broadly. It would be interesting to see who was inspected, when these inspections were done, and by who. Their website says these is only one inspector on staff.

If these are actually misrepresentations that were made to the Governor's office and the legislature, aimed at creating support for the Div of Ag's goal of taking over the State Vet program (as well as other state programs) it is malfeasance.  Testifying to an untruth simply exposes the corruption within Alaska Ag, and the Division in particular.

It's amusing, in that ironic sort of way, that Director Keyes has plead the case for food safety. He certainly had a very different outlook not that long ago:

The Division of Ag is playing a very dangerous game in Juneau. Not only are they apparently willing to lie to your representatives, they have gone so far as to hire staff, to implement a program based on a plan that does not exist!

All the paranoid posturing in the world, will not correct the poor management, poor oversight, poor accounting, and poor performance that is demonstrated by the Division of Agriculture. Transparency and accountability?  Ha!

And we pay for this. Soon enough, out of every paycheck.


Anonymous said...

Some heads need to roll over there. For real this time.

Anonymous said...

Well isn't that interesting. If you read the daily news article in the link, written by Mr. Keyes(?) it sure sounds like he would do anything in his power to get rid of any food safety rules for farmers, which is scary enough. But now that he is the Agriculture Director he wants the food safety bill money and wants to run the program? If he really was hoodwinking the Governor and Legislature to get it, I hope he is doing well with his strawberry farm. Sounds like he will need another job real soon. But with this administration he'll probably just get a salary raise and a pat on the head.

Anonymous said...

This is the tip of the iceberg of the corruption (both past and present) at the Division of Agriculture (And yes, I know this as fact). If legislators or the governor really wanted to know about this "malfeasance" and lots more examples of it, all they would have to do is ask, and they would find a Pandora's Box of it over there. But obviously they do not want to know, because it has gone on an on, for decades. The job of shedding light on the sh!tshow at Ag (and elsewhere) is left up to investigative journalists. Keep digging, you're getting warmer.