Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler on Thursday responded to recent criticism by state auditors who say his agency's inspectors aren't tough enough on dairies when handling out grades on their milk.
According to an audit released Wednesday, inspectors rarely took action when they noted repeated violations. In one case, for example, the inspector marked violations of the same two requirements for six successive inspections without suspending the dairy's permit to market its milk as Grade A.
Troxler mostly spoke about what he called "inaccuracies" in the audit. He talked about the processes milk producers go through and the work of inspectors to make sure they are being followed.
During the years the audit took place, Troxler said there were nearly 13,000 tests on milk samples. He said only one showed unacceptable bacteria levels, and Troxler claims that facility was suspended from producing Grade A milk.
"I can tell you I am very upset and disappointed," Troxler said. "I want to make it clear that we have a safe milk supply that is inspected. Milk is the most regulated commodity sold in the United States, and it's because of the processes involved."
Auditors blamed the lax enforcement in part on the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services' dual role as regulator and promoter of North Carolina's agricultural products, but they said not docking dairies for violations puts consumers at risk.
Hundreds of violations of cleanliness and rodent and insect control were noted at dairies statewide over a three-year period, but only one Grade A permit was suspended in that time, the audit states.
Troxler called the audit "a slap in the face" to the dairy industry, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported no illness outbreaks related to pasteurized milk in North Carolina since at least 1998.
"If there is an imminent health concern, we are there, we will take action no questions asked," he said. "To suggest otherwise is irresponsible, inflammatory and an insult to the job that our inspectors do every day working with the dairy industry.
"The consumer should feel comfortable about consuming milk products," he said.