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Sparks Outlines His Plan For Ag Department

Sparks Outlines His Plan For Ag Department
October 8, 2002 |

On Nov. 5, Alabama voters will elect candidates who will direct key functions of government for the next four years. One of the positions on the ballot is the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries. Yet few Alabamians understand the role the Commissioner plays in food safety and fair commerce.This month, Neighbors sat down with Assistant Commissioner Ron Sparks, whom the Alabama Farmers Federation has endorsed for Commissioner. He shared his thoughts about the duties of the Commissioner and his plans for the future.NEIGHBORS: What are the duties of the Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries?SPARKS: The Commissioner serves as a protector for farmers, consumers and all of the public. Food safety, meat inspection and food and drug inspection all are the responsibility of this office. Our state laboratories monitor chemicals used in the production of food and fiber in our state and are responsible for maintaining the safety and integrity of our food supply. Plant and animal disease control are critical functions of this department. Four veterinary diagnostics laboratories provide rapid responses to disease outbreaks. Plans also are under way to provide an additional laboratory in west Alabama. This office also is responsible for regulating all weights and measures, which includes everything from validating the octane in the gasoline you buy to checking the calibration on the pumps where your gas is purchased. The Commissioner is responsible for certifying all scales used in commerce in the state, from the scales at the grocery checkout to the scales where livestock is bought and sold. In addition, this office is responsible for regulating all agriculture input items sold in the state, including feed, seed and fertilizer. The Commissioner also regulates all markets such as stockyards and livestock dealers.NEIGHBORS: What are your qualifications?SPARKS: As assistant commissioner for nearly four years, I’ve been involved in every level of the Department of Agriculture and Industries, helping it to become more efficient and productive. I am a leader and problem-solver who will continue to build on the programs we’ve started the last three and a half years. I will be aggressive in handling problems as they arise and will put a team in place around me that understands every facet of agriculture and food safety.NEIGHBORS: Why do you want to be commissioner?SPARKS: I was raised to believe that we should all help each other and work together to solve problems. That is the foundation of my desire for public service. Alabama is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and we should be proud that agriculture is our state’s largest industry. We have to continue to encourage agricultural growth in our state, implement ways to ensure profitability for our farmers and preserve our family farms.NEIGHBORS: What changes do you expect to make as commissioner?SPARKS: I’ve had the privilege of helping to implement major changes in this office that have converted it to an office that actually serves the people of Alabama. We have reduced bureaucracy, increased efficiency and provided more consumer protection and food safety through new, tougher laws. I pledge to continue to build on this foundation. Our state must have a vision that includes opportunities and better days ahead. We can’t wait for a disaster to strike – we will develop a plan to address those problems before they are critical. We will be proactive, not reactive. A plan already is under way to implement a bioterrorism response strategy for our state. I pledge to continue to improve on that plan. This office also will be aggressively involved in national affairs such as trade issues and agricultural policies that affect all Alabamians.

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