Sunday, February 3, 2008

Pollard’s record on public safety becomes issue in campaign

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Pollard’s record on public safety becomes issue in campaign

Albert C. Pollard, the Democratic candidate for the senate seat for the 28th District, has come under scrutiny for past and present legislative programs that Republican opponent Richard Stuart and others claim would endanger public safety.

Pollard’s support for deregulation of dairy and grain to allow the sale of uninspected meat and dairy, as well as his sponsorship of past legislation exempting light trailers from inspection and permitting floating live-fire duck blinds near residential property, have raised questions about Pollard’s record on public safety.

In debates between the candidates Pollard regularly proposes to “save the family farm” by allowing the sale of raw dairy and grain direct to the consumer without the current state-mandated regulation and inspection. Virginia and 22 other states currently prohibit the distribution and sale of raw dairy products due to the potential for salmonella, tuberculosis, e coli and other pathogens.

Most area consumers know that under current regulations they can still legally share a cow or goat and obtain raw dairy if desired. But Pollard has resurrected his efforts for wider deregulation, after his defeat two years ago when the House of Delegates voted down his 2005 legislation to allow direct sale by the farmer to the consumer of raw unpasteurized dairy products. The resurfacing of the issue in this year’s campaign for the seat representing the Northern Neck and Stafford County is sparking questions since there are few dairy farms in the district, and moreover the sale of grain is not currently regulated.

Pollard’s 2005 legislation was defeated under a barrage of testimony about the potential dangers of his change. He was quoted in a Fredericksburg newspaper at the time saying he was disappointed, but that he “couldn’t combat the plethora of experts who had testified against the safety of raw milk.” But Pollard was working with the support of Jay Salatin, who owns a farm elsewhere in Virginia but not in the 28th District and who has become politically active in Richmond and Washington DC, lobbying for raw dairy advocacy groups like the Virginia Independent Consumer Farmers Association (VICFA). Salatin argued for Pollard’s deregulation effort saying, “Safety is subjective.”

Salatin appears in current Pollard campaign materials, without mention of the location of his farming interests. Pollard has also received campaign contributions from Jim Ukrop, political big-money donor and owner of a Richmond-based grocery chain that has worked to establish high-margin, high-profit “niche markets” for meats, shellfish, eggs and produce delivered from Ukrop’s production chain of farms and fishermen located throughout the United States and in Mexico. Ukrop has been criticized in Richmond for making profits off small farmers, and plowing his earnings into political campaigns supporting his chain’s interests in deregulation.

Andrew Smith, assistant director of government relations for the Virginia Farm Bureau, says regulation of dairy and meat is essential to confidence in American food safety. In an interview with The Journal, Smith stressed the potential danger in legalizing the direct sale of raw dairy products from the farmer to the consumer, which could lead to widespread distribution of raw dairy product without oversight of production, handling and distribution. Smith said, “It all depends on the wording and interpretation of a proposed statute.” Smith recalls that last year’s raw spinach recall nearly put a King George farmer out of business as public confidence in the product evaporated.

Northern Neck Delegate Rob Wittman, who holds a masters degree in public health, emphatically agrees. “We have a duty to make sure the milk supply is safe,” said Wittman in an interview, adding that there are legislative means to reduce the regulatory red tape for certain food production while maintaining food safety and promoting local farms, but he argued that deregulating dairy and meat production and distribution is not the solution.

Underscoring the potential risks of under-regulation, during this past summer three children in Pennsylvania were taken seriously ill due to consumption of legally purchased raw milk in the state of Pennsylvania, sparking local outrage over unregulated raw dairy.

Pollard is also taking heat from transportation safety advocates who opposed his draft legislation to exempt mesh trailers under three thousand pounds from state inspection. Traditionally, Virginia legislation required that trailers weighing less than 3,000 pounds have either two or more reflectors of an approved type, or at least 100 square inches of reflective material, to outline the rear end of the trailer. In 2005, Pollard patroned legislation which would have redefined a utility trailer so as to exempt it entirely from the requirements of approved reflectors or reflectorized material to outline the trailer. Pollard’s bill (HB4290) defined a utility trailer as a device “whose body and tailgate consist largely or exclusively of mesh and whose end extends 18 inches or more beyond its tail lights.”

In 2005, the year of Pollard’s bill to reduce regulation of utility trailers, he received more than $3,200 in campaign money from Richmond and national lobbyists for transportation interests, including independent auto dealers and trucking interests, according to records maintained by the Virginia Public Access Project ( Public safety crusader Ron Melancon, who successfully lobbied to remove Pollard’s definition of a utility trailer from the final bill, accuses Pollard of acting at the behest of the trucking and transportation industry to the detriment of public safety.

In an interview this week, Melancon noted that under Pollard’s attempted legal change, anyone could build a trailer under 3,000 pounds without any inspection requirement or trailer-outlining reflection. Campaigning on behalf of public-safety interests in 2005, Melancon convinced senators that under Pollard’s bill, one could have a mile-long trailer with only a single set of tail lights positioned 18 inches from the bumper. Melancon keeps a registry of all of the accidents involving defective utility trailers at, and his registry now includes the recent Bay Bridge accident that claimed three lives this spring. In 2005, the State Senate’s focus on examples of the evident danger doomed Pollard’s attempt to relax safety standards.

The third piece of Pollard legislation that raised public safety issues was his 2005 bill to allow floating duck blinds on the waterways in the district. Floating duck blinds, which are allowed in several eastern Virginia localities, are criticized by some as posing hazards for residents and property along the shore. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has actually issued warnings to users of the Occoquan Water Trail, to “stay away from stationary and floating duck blinds” because of the danger they pose from stray shots. The issue is being argued in other states as well; on Aug. 19 the New York Times featured a story on the heated debates over floating duck blinds off Long Island, debates that pit duck hunters against residents angry about noise and danger.

Pollard’s successful 2005 effort to establish floating duck blinds was opposed by his current opponent Richard Stuart, then serving as Westmoreland County commonwealth’s attorney. Stuart testified against the change, saying “I ask you how I’m supposed to police this. It creates a heck of a public safety issue.”

Pollard responds to article

Since I don't believe in a nanny state, I believe individuals have enough commonsense to be able to go to a farm, make an informed decision, and purchase uninspected food products – including jams, jelly, and dairy products. Buying from a neighboring farmer you know is surely safer than buying inspected food from China.

Just as a hunter can legally hunt deer up to their property line, I sponsored a bill to allow certain portions of the Rappahannock River accessible to float blinds. Hunters are responsible people and do not need big brother to tell them how to hunt responsibly.

I believe that reflectors should be on the rear of trailers with unloaded weights of 3,000 pounds or less that do not otherwise require state safety inspection and whose body and tailgate consist largely of a metal mesh.

Aside from these three specifics questions, public safety covers many areas of our everyday lives. While these are certainly important, protecting our communities and families from harm; and making sure our law enforcement has the tools it needs to adequately do their jobs should be of the utmost importance to everyone focusing on public safety. While I served in the General Assembly I continuously worked to keep Virginia safe by toughening laws on meth as well as underage drinking, toughed laws against sex offenders and co-sponsored a bill to keep firearms out of schools – this is just a few examples of the work I have done on public safety.