"Governor Rendell's top priority has been to ensure that agriculture continues to function as a leading economic enterprise in Pennsylvania," Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff told members of the House Appropriations Committee.
"This budget will help Pennsylvania's agricultural community by giving us more tools to help farmers today and in the future. This budget provides a significant investment in priorities, such as consumer protection, farmland preservation and developing our youth to build future generations of farmers and agribusiness professionals."
Gov. Edward G. Rendell's proposed 2006-07 budget also includes an additional $300,000 for food safety, which will allow the department to make further advancements in the inspection and licensing process. The department currently inspects 22,000 eating and drinking establishments annually.
On Jan. 1, the department implemented the Garrison Enterprises Digital Health Department System, which allows consumers to look at the state's restaurant inspection reports online.
"The Governor's proposed increase in inspection funding will allow us to further ensure the safety of the state's food supply," Wolff said. "Gov. Rendell has already led us through changes to the antiquated food inspection process he found when entering office, providing $600,000 for a modern, Web-based system that gives consumers online access to food inspection reports."
Total spending in the Governor's agriculture budget is $215 million, or $35 million more than last year.
The budget proposal also addresses other consumer-protection issues with the inclusion of a $5.25 million commitment to the Animal Health Commission, and an additional $500,000 for the multi-agency Avian Influenza Surveillance Plan. The Department of Agriculture aggressively monitors and tests a variety of animal health diseases such as avian influenza, chronic wasting disease and West Nile Virus.
"This animal health and diagnostic investment allows Pennsylvania to be competitive in the international marketplace," Wolff said. "The department works hard to ensure that our livestock and poultry are among the safest in the world, and this increase in funding will allow us to further enhance this vital area."