Ag inspections have come a long way
ANN M. O'PHELANOn every paved highway in Florida, you will find one of the 23 agricultural interdiction stations operated by the Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement's Bureau of Uniform Services.
Published: January 23, 2013
Published: January 23, 2013
The stations are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and employ 224 law enforcement personnel whose main duty is to provide the public with quality food products and help prevent, control and eradicate specific plant and animal pests and diseases.
Without the bureau, our state's $100 billion agriculture industry could be in serious jeopardy. Agricultural, horticultural, aquacultural and livestock commodities that are not properly stored, do not have the correct temperatures for storage, are diseased, infected or illegal are what the Office of Agriculture Law Enforcement's Bureau of Uniform Services is concentrating on as they conduct vehicle inspections.
A recent example discovered by the bureau was the contents found in a trailer. A load of unlabeled produce was packed in used boxes. Also, there was no bill of lading accompanying the load that listed the produce on the trailer. To top it off, comingled in the shipment of produce was a pallet of goat carcasses that did not meet temperature requirements. Now that's not exactly appetizing, nor is it safe for human consumption.
It's reasons like this that anything from a van to an 18-wheeler is required to stop at an agricultural interdiction station.
"All trucks, trailers, pickup and vans must submit to agricultural inspection," said Chief Tim Rutherford of the Bureau of Uniform Services, who explained that those who do not comply may be issued a traffic citation; furthermore, the bureau officers can make arrests.
The bureau sometimes finds, upon inspection, narcotics and stolen property. In fact, the bureau was responsible for the seizure of more than $8 million in narcotics and stolen property last fiscal year. In situations like this, the bureau will seize items, seize vehicles, make arrests and work with other arms of the law enforcement bureau.
For other issues, such as the improper storage of food, the contents alone may be seized and disposed of.
"We confer with other departments as to what to do and how to dispose of seized materials in accordance with their rules," said Rutherford, who explained that in some situations, the vehicles are simply stopped from entering the state. They are turned back.
"Our operation is similar to customs," he added as he explained just how much the OALE discovers during their inspections. During fiscal year 2011/2012, the OALE performed 7,783,703 regulatory inspections at its interdiction stations. During the inspections, they discovered 704 citrus, tomato, avocado, plant, apiary and food safety violations, and 808 livestock violations. They also recovered or seized $373,500 worth of contraband and equipment.
Nowadays, The Bureau of Uniform Services, formerly referred to as the Road Guard Bureau, conducts the inspections by hand, and in some situations and areas incorporates high-tech help, such as the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System Unit. The unit utilizes the latest gamma ray technology to enhance the inspection capabilities. The unit can safely scan occupied trucks and vehicles.
In 1935, when the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services began inspecting shipments of agricultural products, the inspection stations were a lot less high tech. The stations were mostly operated by local citizens. These early operators were often farmers in need of supplemental income during the Great Depression years. They operated out of tents using flashlights. Should a vehicle not stop, the attendants on duty were known to chase down the offenders using their own personal vehicles.
The inspections were first established on six major highways crossing the Suwannee and St. Mary's Rivers, as the rivers form a natural boundary north of the citrus and vegetable production areas. Originally, the stations were only open during prime citrus production season.
By 1951, as the markets and demand for Florida products increased, the inspections stations began operating on a 24-hours-a-day, year-round schedule. The bureau's latest site in located in Pensacola on Interstate 10, one-third mile from the Florida/Alabama state border.