From Chronicle.Augusta.com, Walter Jones, Morris News Service, 18 Apr 2011.
ATLANTA [GA] — Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black said Monday he is hopeful that the quality of Georgia products will overcome boycott attempts by opponents of the state’s new restrictions on illegal immigrants.
Finding enough workers to pick the crops after the new law takes effect, though, might be a bigger problem.
Black made the comments during a news conference at the Department of Agriculture where he also announced teams of inspectors would be policing flea markets for unsanitary food or diseased animals on sale.
Farm groups opposed House Bill 87 that attempts to make illegal immigrants unwelcome by preventing them from working and by empowering police to question their citizenship if they’re arrested for a felony. Immigrant-rights groups also opposed the bill and warned of boycotts from buyers of Georgia products and tourists if Gov. Nathan Deal signs it into law as he said he would.
When the commissioner was asked if he was stepping up a marketing effort to try to forestall a potential boycott, Black offered his confidence in the products instead.
“I think Georgia commodities and their quality and the family farmers that produce them speak for themselves,” he said. “So we look forward to being very aggressive, as we always are, and we believe consumers in this country and the world will respond in a positive fashion.”
But asked if is worried that there would be sufficient manpower at harvest time now that farmers must verify the citizenship of every hire, he was frank.
“Absolutely, but we always are,” he said. “Labor is a large challenge in agriculture. Making sure there is a documented, legal, work force has always been a goal of folks in agriculture and remains so today.”
During debate on the recently passed immigration restrictions, Black’s successor as president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council, Bryan Tolar, warned federal guest-worker visas doesn’t supply a sufficient number of workers. Adding a requirement that all employees have their citizenship validated with the federal E-Verify database will only increase expenses, delays and errors in misclassifying workers, he said.
Regarding the flea-market patrols, Black said he’s instructed teams with expertise in plants, animals and consumer protection to crack down on unlicensed vendors. The department’s anti-terrorism officers will also participate.
“We do have an ongoing problem and an ongoing concern for Georgia consumers about the trafficking, the illegal trafficking of companion animals, dogs and cats and even birds,” he said. “We get a lot of complaints about these particular facilities. There are potential disease issues.”
He recommended dealing with reputable breeders, animal shelters or established rescue centers.
However, he also cautioned against giving chicks and ducklings as Easter gifts without considering the care and expense required of adult chickens and ducks.