NC auditor, Ag commissioner in back-and-forth over enforcement of milk safety rules

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Auditor Beth Wood told CBS North Carolina Friday that she started investigating the state’s dairy farm inspection process when she was tipped off by some staff members at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture that there were issues.

RELATED: Audit finds 1,000+ issues with NC’s enforcement of Grade ‘A’ milk safety rules

“It’s very concerning to me that an inspector would write it up as a violation and they would describe the violation and then the very next inspection they would describe the same wording, but they wouldn’t mark it as a violation,” said Wood.

North Carolina’s Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said inspectors do their jobs, and he added that pasteurization and testing also ensures North Carolina’s milk is safe.

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Wood’s report found the opposite — 50 instances from 2012 to 2015 where permits of dairy farms should have been suspended or revoked based on the continual violations that were found during inspections.

“I’ve got an audit report with hundreds, hundreds of violations that have been repeated not just once but multiple times; sometimes up to six times,” Wood explained.

Friday, the auditor offered the commissioner the chance to correct any issues he sees with the findings of her report.

“If we are wrong, show us the evidence,” Wood said. “If we are incorrect, show us the evidence.”

Asked about the back and forth between the two offices and whether or not the state’s milk was indeed safe, Wood answered, “Again, I’ll have to leave it up to Commissioner Troxler. If he feels that the pasteurization process and the testing process is the end-all for safe milk and he says that process is working like it should, then citizens of North Carolina should be feeling comfortable that the milk that they’re buying is safe.”

“It’s unfortunate she is waffling on the safety of the Grade ‘A’ milk supply. When pressed on this issue, the auditor refused to clarify her position on whether Grade ‘A’ milk is safe or not,” Commissioner Troxler countered in a statement Friday. “I am confident in the safety of the Grade ‘A’ Milk supply in North Carolina, and the processes in place to ensure its safety.”

Reid Smith, who owns Red Acres Farm in Lexington and is president of the North Carolina Dairy Producers Association, pushed back on the audit as well.

He showed CBS North Carolina some of the measures his employees take to meet health and safety standards, including using iodine to sanitize cows’ udders and the testing of milk for bacteria and antibiotics.

“It’s disheartening to know that people don’t have confidence in our product when we’re really working as hard as we can to have a quality product for the consumer,” said Smith. “When the inspector comes in quarterly to inspect us, it’s an important part. But, he’s only one piece of the whole system, the whole process.”

Wood’s report said there’s a conflict of interest in that the same department that works toward the success of the state’s agriculture industry must also regulate it. She believes without changes, the inspection process to ensure the cleanliness and safety of our milk could be failing.

Wood has laid out several recommendations in her audit report. To see them, click here.

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