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State's food safety ready to be exported

By Staff
Johnny Mack Morrow
Franklin County Times
In Alabama, we often think of trade as something that isn't good for us.
It is an easy thing to understand. Whenever our leaders in Washington have signed off on "free trade" pacts, it seems throughout our state factories would close and the machines would be shipped off to another country.
No matter the bad deals we've gotten, trade with other countries remains critically important to the state's economy.
And nowhere is that importance greater than in Alabama agriculture.
We produce some of the best agricultural staples in the world, renowned for their high quality and purity.
That is becoming more and more of an important factor when other nations look to purchase these kinds of goods. Just look at what happened recently in China.
That country is in the throws of one of the worst food poisoning scandals in history. Chinese dairy producers added a dangerous product, melamine, to its milk to boost protein levels.
This stuff is used in plastics and other industrial processes, and should never be used in anything for human consumption. So far, four infants have died and more than 53,000 people have gotten sick.
Since last month, more and more Chinese products have been found to have melamine. Feed grain that was exported to other countries was found to have it, meaning that the dangerous product is now in other parts of the world as well.
That is where the quality and safety standards in agriculture which our state has in place, could mean opportunity for greater exports.
Alabama Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom is going to China for an economic and humanitarian mission along with lieutenant governors from other states.
He'll be looking into where that terrible earthquake took place this past summer and see what Alabama could do to help. But while he is there, it is also a golden opportunity to promote Alabama dairy products.
The Alabama dairy industry is a major part of our state's agriculture. We produce some of the highest quality milk in the world, which is closely inspected and meets the highest standards.
It is an opportunity for Folsom to make some connections and open some markets for our trusted product.
Folsom will be doing what our state agriculture commissioner Ron Sparks has been doing steadily for years now, promoting Alabama agriculture to other countries.
Agricultural exports are worth more than $400 million to our state, from poultry to cotton, soybeans to beef, and rival any other economic sector of our state.
The agriculture department says that our farms generated more than $4 billion in sales last year.
Sparks has also been pushing fairer trade when it comes to agricultural goods as well.
Though not as deadly as melamine, foreign farmers use products that have been banned here, like certain antibiotics, pesticides and steroids to increase yields.
Sparks has fought to make imported agricultural products follow the same strict guidelines, and when those imports failed, move to ban them from our shelves.
Last year, Sparks ordered a stop sale on Chinese farm raised catfish because of positive test results showing the presence of antibiotics banned for use in food products by the FDA.
He has taken some heat from federal authorities for actions like these, but he is adamant that Alabama standards be enforced on food products.
Another way that Sparks has tried to level the playing field for our farmers is fighting for country-of-origin labeling.
That battle has now been won with the recent implementation of a federal law that will label all meat and produce with where it came from.
Another good program is the "Alabama A+" and the "Buy Alabama's Best" programs so consumers can find products grown and made right here in Alabama, sure to be the freshest and highest quality in the world.
We know how important it is that our farmers and agricultural producers are to be trusted to deliver safe and pure products.
That is something the rest of the world is now realizing, and that means better trade for our state in the future.
Johnny Mack Morrow is a state representative for Franklin County. His column appears each Wednesday.