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Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory becomes a FERN member

October 29, 2009

The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF)/LSU AgCenter Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory is now a member of the Food Emergency Response Network (FERN), Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said.

The Agricultural Chemistry Lab, located on LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, is one of three FERN member labs in Louisiana.

The FERN system, a network of federal, state and local food-testing labs, was created to enable officials to quickly respond to emergencies involving biological, chemical, or radiological contamination of food.

Strain said food safety is a priority for the LDAF.

“When the legislature changed the name of the LDAF Office of Animal Health to Animal Health and Food Safety this year upon my request, I wanted the name to reflect the LDAF’s commitment to protecting the state’s food supply,” Strain said. “Becoming a FERN member further solidifies the LDAF’s role in maintaining food safety.”

The Agricultural Chemistry Lab already had the capability to analyze food for bacterial and chemical contamination, but needed the ability to analyze a larger number of samples more rapidly during food safety emergencies.

“New equipment was needed in order to quickly process significantly more samples,” Strain said. “As demonstrated in past news reports of melamine in dog food and salmonella tainted peanut butter, early detection is key to preventing widespread illness.

“Now, after utilizing a Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness grant to purchase new lab equipment, our lab has met standards to become a FERN member.”

LSU AgCenter Vice Chancellor for Research Dr. David Boethel is pleased to hear of the lab’s new status.

“The FERN laboratory status enhances the regulatory and research function of the Agricultural Chemistry Department,” Boethel said.  “I am pleased with the added support that the FERN program will give to the LSU AgCenter’s food safety research initiatives.”

Agricultural Chemistry Department Head Mark Leblanc said he is also excited about the lab becoming a FERN member.

“The Agricultural Chemistry Laboratory is already a great example of cooperation and shared resources among two state agencies,” Leblanc said. “Our participation in the FERN laboratory program will strengthen that cooperation and can provide opportunities for funding that can help us make a significant contribution to protecting our nation’s food supply.”

Strain said the Agricultural Chemistry Lab provides analytical services to both the LSU AgCenter and the LDAF. The lab conducts analysis on a wide range of samples including animal feed, fertilizers and lime, pesticide formulations and residues, and watershed runoff. Louisiana residents can also submit samples to be analyzed for a fee.

Strain said the Agricultural Chemistry Program is a joint endeavor between the LDAF and the LSU AgCenter.       -30-