Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lawsuit Filed after "Operation Spotlight" Exposes Fuel Company Cheating Customers

Today Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took legal action against Petroleum Wholesale, L.P., after the Texas Department of Agriculture's "Operation Spotlight" found that The Woodlands-based company's gas stations routinely failed to pump the amount of fuel its customers actually purchased.

Fair and honest businesses fuel the $1 trillion Texas economy. I will not tolerate a renegade company defrauding our consumers. It hurts families struggling in these challenging economic times and casts an unwarranted dark shadow over the business community. I commend Attorney General Abbott for his quick action on this serious matter, and I look forward to working with him to see all deceptive practices are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

For more information on Attorney General Abbott's suit, read the full press release.

You can also watch video of our joint press conference:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Salmonella Outbreak linked to Irrigation Water at Mexican Farm

New details were released today concerning the nationwide salmonella Saintpaul outbreak affecting produce.

Food & Drug Administration officials linked the salmonella Saintpaul strain to irrigation water and serrano peppers at a packing facility and farm in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.

The FDA is advising people to avoid raw serrano and jalapeno peppers grown and packed in Mexico. The safest way to enjoy Serrano and jalapeno peppers is to buy Texas grown produce.

While the investigation has not cleared tomatoes grown on the Mexican farm that may have been sprayed with the tainted water, you can rest assured tomatoes grown in the Lone Star State are safe to eat. Keep your family healthy and safe while supporting Texas farmers.

Keep checking my blog for updates, as the information is changing on daily basis.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hardin County can treat Crazy Ants with Termidor

One more Texas county can use the pesticide, Termidor, to help get rid of crazy ants.

The Environmental Protection Agency has approved Termidor to be used in Hardin County since its original allowances issued at the beginning of the month.

Counties that are currently cleared for the use of Termidor are also in Southeast Texas: Brazoria, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery and Wharton counties. More counties will be added to the list if Texas A&M entomologists identify the ants in those counties.

The EPA has granted Termidor use on man-made structures only.

To see an updated list of Section 18 exemptions, visit the Pesticides Page on our Web site.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Texas Jalapenos are Safe to Eat

Good news for our Texas producers and consumers. The Food and Drug Administration has announced Texas-grown jalapeno peppers are safe to eat. FDA scientists say the U.S. crop of jalapenos has not been linked to the outbreak of Salmonella. The FDA is narrowing its warning to jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico.

This latest alert reinforces what I have said in the past: we have the safest food supply in the world and consumers should buy and enjoy Texas products.

Since the outbreak began in April, 1,300 have become ill. Tomatoes were the initial suspect, however health officials have determined Texas tomatoes and all others on the market are safe to consume. So make sure you GO TEXAN this weekend and eat some Texas grown products.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Big Win for Texas Farmers and Ranchers

The following is a press release from the Texas Department of Agriculture:

Federal Judge rules struggling producers can use land for haying and grazing

AUSTIN – Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples is pleased with the decision by a federal judge to conditionally allow haying and grazing on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage under the Critical Feed Use (CFU) Program. The CFU program is designed to alleviate livestock feed needs resulting from drought and escalating feed costs.

“This is great news for Texas producers who work hard to feed the world and support their families,” Commissioner Staples said. “The judge made a sound decision, understanding that opening the land will assist producers who are struggling from the one-two punch of drought and high feed costs.”

Earlier this month Commissioner Staples filed an affidavit on behalf of Texas producers who would have suffered severe economic hardships had the National Wildlife Federation succeeded in convincing the court to suspend the use of CRP land for critical haying and grazing.

To read the rest of the press release, visit the Texas Department of Agriculture's Web site.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Salmonella Food Safety Statement on Jalapenos

In light of the recent announcement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regarding a Mexican-grown jalapeno pepper testing positive with Salmonella Saintpaul it is important to note that all reports indicate Texas-grown jalapenos are safe to eat.

In 2007, Texas harvested 4,500 acres, or 17 million pounds, of chile peppers, the majority being jalapenos. Most farms that grow jalapenos are in Hudspeth and Hidalgo counties.

While the jalapeno sample was obtained at a produce distribution center in McAllen, there is still no evidence to suggest the contamination occurred in Texas.

The process for tracking down the origin of the Salmonella Saintpaul contamination has been a long, daunting and frankly, frustrating process for all.
I share in this frustration.

In the meantime, Texans can be assured that we continue to enjoy the safest food supply in the world.

Our food safety system in the United States is an effective web of firewalls that complement and support each other ensuring safety from food-borne pathogens. In the rare instance when a safeguard is compromised, there are other defenses that are automatically triggered to protect consumers.

Consumers should always properly wash and prepare all food items, as this is a basic part of family food safety.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“Operation Spotlight” Uncovers Fuel Company Cheating Customers at Pump

Today I announced results of “Operation Spotlight,” a major investigation into Petroleum Wholesale, L.P.’s fuel stations. The company operates under the name Sunmart in Texas, and has stations located in several cities across the state. Findings from “Operation Spotlight” have confirmed numerous Sunmart gas stations have cheated Texas consumers by giving them less fuel than they purchased, and strongly indicate this could have been a deliberate act by the company.

At a time when families are struggling to purchase fuel, I am sure all Texans would agree with me that despicable violations such as these are repulsive and must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Giveb the strong indication this company has intentionally cheated consumers, I have passed along the results of ‘Operation Spotlight’ to Attorney General Abbott and his office has opened an investigation into the matter.

I initiated “Operation Spotlight” after becoming aware of some egregious violation patterns that pointed to the possibility of Sunmart intentionally shortchanging Texas drivers. The three-day operation ended on Sunday, July 20, with the following results:

· 990 of Sunmart’s 1,704 fuel pumps cheated consumers (58 percent)
· 47 Sunmart stations cheated customers on more than half of their pumps
· 15 of those 47 stations had every single pump cheating drivers.
· TDA shut down all of the non-compliant pumps.

While the investigation remains ongoing, TDA estimates the company could be fined more than $100,000 as a result of their irresponsible actions.

Besides Texas, Petroleum Wholesale, L.P. operates Sunmart fuel stations in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. Commissioner Staples has alerted regulatory officials in these states to inform them of this investigation.
While this specific operation may have ended, we are far from finished. We are going to shine the light on all violators who are looking to shortchange Texans. I will not stand for companies taking advantage of good citizens and I will work hard to protect all our consumers.

This investigation is ongoing. TDA inspectors will conduct follow-up inspections on each and every gas pump that was tagged out of order once it is recalibrated. We will also conduct re-inspections in the coming weeks on a random sample of the Sunmart stations. If we find continued violations, the penalties could rise much higher.

This investigation has given us great insight and we will use what we have learned to strengthen the regulatory process. We are raising the bar so there is a strong incentive for ALL gas station owners to be compliant; a goal which I believe is strongly shared by the 95 percent of the retail fuel industry that operates with honest business practices.

If you suspect a gas pump is out of compliance, you can report it by calling 1-800-TELL-TDA.

Click links to watch news coverage of "Operation Spotlight"

KEYE - Austin, TX July 22, 2008

WFAA - Dallas, TX July 22, 2008

KTRK - Houston, TX July 22, 2008

KXAN - Austin, TX July 22, 2008

KTBC - Austin, TX July 22, 2008

KDFW - Austin, TX July 22, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Texas Winery Visit

On Friday I had the opportunity of attending the 31st anniversary of the Moonlit Harvest at Messina Hof Winery & Resort in Bryan. The harvest celebrates the beginning of the 2008 harvest and allowed me to get an up-close look at one of the great contributors to the Texas wine industry.

Part of what made the event so memorable was helping to pick the fresh Lenoir Grapes, or Black Spanish Grapes right from the vines. Messina Hof expects 80 tons of grapes in this year’s harvest.

It was a real joy participating in the harvest of just one of the more than 160 wineries in Texas. The Moonlit Harvest festival also includes dinner at the resort and continues every weekend until August 17th.

Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the nation; wine industry contributes $1 billion to the state’s economy.

Texas has 210 commercial vineyards planted on more than 3,200 acres around the state. You can learn more about visiting Texas vineyards and wineries at

Friday, July 18, 2008

Statement on Saintpaul salmonella outbreak and unrelated recent produce recall in Texas

While I join consumers in frustration over the lengthy federal trace-back process regarding the national Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, Texans continue to enjoy the safest food supply in the world.

It’s important to note that to date NO Texas-grown produce has been linked to the Salmonella Saintpaul nationwide outbreak, or to the produce associated with yesterday’s recall. That produce was grown in Mexico, but transferred through a Texas distributor.

Our food safety system in the United States is an effective web of firewalls that complement and support each other ensuring safety from food-borne pathogens. In the rare instance when a safeguard is compromised, there are other defenses that automatically trigger to protect consumers.

Consumers should always properly wash and prepare all food items, as this is a basic part of family food safety.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Certified Retirement Communities

On Wednesday, I traveled throughout East Texas to recognize the four newest GO TEXAN Certified Retirement Communities in Texas: Shelby County, Franklin County, Panola County and the city of Pittsburg. There are now 16 certified retirement communities in Texas.

Launched in June 2006, the Texas Department of Agriculture’s CRC initiative helps rural Texas communities attract retirees and potential retirees to reside in their respective locales. The CRC Program also encourages tourism while promoting the state as a desirable retirement destination to current and future retirees across the country.

I extend my most sincere congratulations to the citizens and leaders of the newest certified counties for achieving this notable certification. Not only do retirees have a significant economic impact on retirement areas, but they also bring a wealth of knowledge and energy for community service, employment and business.

Retirees spend an average $36,000 each year in their new communities while also paying $3,000 or more in state and local taxes. Texas is the second most popular retirement state, and native Texans account for one-fifth of retirees returning to Texas.

To become a CRC, communities must complete an application and retirement desirability assessment covering a wide range of topics including demographics, tax structure, local housing availability, safety, employment opportunities, and availability of health care services, public transportation and more. The application also includes support from the community, a marketing plan and a long-term plan. An independent volunteer advisory team representing leaders in business, healthcare, city/state government and retirees review and score the applications.

The CRC Program is open to any community in Texas that wants to showcase itself as a retirement location and a tourist destination. Interested communities should contact TDA’s Rural Economic Development Division toll free at (877) 428-7848 or e-mail

For more information on the GO TEXAN CRC Program, please visit TDA’s Web site. For more information on retiring in Texas, please visit the official CRC Web site at

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Affidavit

On Tuesday I filed an affidavit on behalf of Texas producers who will suffer severe economic hardships if a recent restraining order issued by a U.S. District Court judge becomes permanent. The National Wildlife Federation is asking the court to suspend the use of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land for Critical Feed Use (CFU).

In May the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the CFU program would take effect on July 2 in Texas, after the primary nesting season for birds on conservation acres ended. This program would have provided livestock grazing and haying access to portions of approximately four million protected acres in Texas. The program was designed to alleviate livestock feed needs for producers driven by feed shortages resulting from drought and escalating feed costs. However, the court’s order took effect on July 8, requiring producers in Texas to immediately halt their utilization of the program after they had already begun accessing approximately 600,000 acres of land.

Texas livestock producers could lose their livelihood if not allowed to use this grazing land. This year high feed costs and drought have hit our producers hard. Now reversing the decision on opening up this land could be the third strike that drives them out of business. The federal government made these producers a promise; it would inflict irreparable harm for the courts not to honor that original pledge.

You can read more on the filing in the press release on TDA's Web site.

You can read the affidavit HERE.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Texas Department Of Agriculture Issues Quarantine To Prevent Spread Of Red Palm Mite From Florida

The following is a press release regarding a quarantine on four Florida counties in order to prevent the red palm mite from moving into Texas:

AUSTIN - The Texas Department of Agriculture has quarantined four Florida counties to prevent entry of the red palm mite into Texas. The pest, which is about 1/100th of an inch in length, bright red and barely visible to the naked eye, feeds on leaves of 32 palm species.

"Protecting the Texas agriculture industry from destructive pests is critical to the continued economic vitality of our producers," Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. "We must use available regulatory actions to assist our growers in their fight to keep the red palm mite out of Texas."

While the red palm mite poses absolutely no threat to human health, it poses a serious threat to Texas palms and the state's agriculture industry, as nurseries contribute more than $1 billion a year.

The red palm mite was first detected in the continental United States on Dec. 3, 2007 in Palm Beach County, Florida. Since then it has spread to Broward, Dade and Monroe counties in Florida. As of June 17, 2008, the mite was detected in 107 residential properties and two nurseries in Florida. To date, the mite has not been found in Texas.

To ensure only mite-free palms are shipped into Texas, the quarantine requires the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to inspect the mite host plants before shipment and provide mite-free phytosanitary certification. Alternatively, nurseries from the quarantined counties can enter into a compliance agreement with FDACS to follow a prescribed pesticide treatment plan to control the mites and ship plants using a specific stamp.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Busy Week, Great Experience

Last week was a busy one, but it was a great opportunity of getting out to meet some of the people that make Texas such a unique and prosperous state.

On Monday I traveled to beautiful Kerrville in the Hill Country for the Summer Commodity Conference. I got to hear from Texas Farm Bureau members from across the state.

Th next day I was back in Austin for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association conference. It’s inspiring to talk with the future of Texas Agriculture and to hear their enthusiasm about keeping the cattle ranching tradition alive.

Later that evening I appeared on the online radio show The Dad Show. We talked about the very serious obesity epidemic affecting Texas children. You can watch video of my interview HERE.

Then on Wednesday, I traveled to Fort Bend County to meet with the Sugar Land Rotary Club. I met with about 60 members and had great conversations about Texas trade with Cuba and gas pump regulation.

That afternoon I met with several doctors at the Texas Children’s Hospital to tackle the serious issue of childhood obesity.

I ended the week in Beaumont with an educational tour of the Port of Beaumont.
(left to right) Pete Shelton, president of the board of commissioners, Todd Staples, Lee Smith, commissioner; Chris Fisher, director, Port of Beaumont

Touring the Port of Beaumont gave me an opportunity to see firsthand "Texas 'Gateway to the World." The port is vital to the agricultural economy of the Lone Star State.

Finally, I toured a rice field at the 61st Summer Rice Field Day at the A&M Research center in Beaumont. I discussed several issues with rice experts, including rice straw as a possible energy source. Despite some rain, it was overall a great and educational event.

I look forward to updating you on more of my travels throughout Texas.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Update on Salmonella Outbreak

I wanted to update my fellow Texans on the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak that continues to grow. Hot peppers have now been added to the investigation as a possible source, but tomatoes have not been ruled out as being contaminated with salmonella.

Officials with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control say the source of the outbreak has not yet been detected, and people are still reporting illnesses. The outbreak has sickened more than 1000 people, making it one of the most serious outbreaks in years.

Investigators are looking into whether or not the contamination comes from a farm or packing house that handles different types of produce.

At this point in time, the FDA is not asking peppers to be pulled from stores or restaurants.

In order to protect yourself from getting sick, people with impaired immune systems, the elderly, and infants should avoid raw jalapeno and raw Serrano peppers. Raw tomatoes grown in Texas are still safe to eat. Tomatoes still on the vine, grape and cherry tomatoes are also considered safe.

For more details on the outbreak visit the FDA’s Web site. They update the site as any new information about salmonella becomes available.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Waging War on Texas' Childhood Obesity Epidemic

We’ve all heard that children need the 3Rs to get a well-rounded education. But I’d like to propose a new concept to Texans so that we can have healthy and happy children: The 3E's for Healthy Living - Education, Exercise and Eating Right.

I am doing a live interview on Internet radio show The Dad Show tonight at 6:15 p.m. to talk about Texas’ war with the deadly obesity epidemic.

Taxpayers are footing the bill for poor eating choices and we must change the trend. I would like schools and parents to adopt the three-pronged approach to battle obesity among Texas youth.

This call to action becomes even more critical in light of results from a state-approved fitness assessment of more than 2 million Texas students. The study reveals student physical fitness levels declines as they progress to the next grade level.

I have toured the state encouraging schools to adopt the 3Es. Since the implementation of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, several Texas schools have already been recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for outstanding nutrition and healthy breakfast/lunch options.

School are making progress by improving the nutritional value of school meals and enhancing overall child health, but we are losing our children after the school day is done. Texas must adopt a more comprehensive approach that results in overall healthier lifestyles and healthier students.

I look forward to working with the Legislature to make the 3Es as recognizable to students as the 3Rs were to previous generations.

Results of the fitness assessment can found on the TEA Web site.

Watch my interview on the Dad Show

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Interview on Fox News Channel

With gas prices at an all time high, it's important Texas consumers only pay for the gasoline they actually receive. That's why the Texas Department of Agriculture wants to educate drivers on what to look for when fueling up. If you have a 20 gallon tank and you pump 22 gallons you maybe getting shortchanged. Also if you are filling up and you notice the readout charges you before you ever put fuel into your vehicle that is called "pump jumping" and it is illegal.

If you have noticed any of these violations or feel something else is irregular call us at 1-800-TELL-TDA. We want to hear from any consumer who thinks they have been cheated at the pump.

We take all complaints very seriously because we believe one cheated consumer, is one too many. I talked about my recent experience of being overcharged during an interview with Alexis Glick on Your World with Neil Cavuto on Fox News Channel Wednesday.

You can watch the clip here:

Click here to read the transcript

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The ants have gone crazy

Here is a press release the Texas Department of Agriculture issued on the treatment of crazy ants:

The Texas Department of Agriculture has been granted approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue a Section 18 crisis exemption allowing the use of fipronil (Termidor SC) to control the crazy ant species (Paratrechina pubens/fulva) in designated counties.

The ant has become a serious nuisance in parts of Houston, where its infestation was calculated at approximately 50 million ants per acre in early June. This Caribbean invader is responsible for causing electrical shortages in homes and businesses throughout the Houston area.

"There are many things Texans cannot control, such as the weather and current gas prices, but they should be able to control pests from invading their homes and businesses," Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said. "Texans deserve access to the best pest control technology available, and this treatment should bring relief."

Termidor SC, manufactured by BASF, may be applied following all directions, restrictions and precautions on the EPA registered product label, as well as restrictions within the exemption notice. The crisis exemption is effective June 30 and will remain in effect until EPA makes a decision on the Section 18 specific exemption TDA will submit.

Only certified and licensed applicators or persons under the direct supervision of licensed applicators can apply Termidor SC to infected areas in the following Texas counties: Brazoria, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson, Liberty, Montgomery and Wharton.

For more information, contact your county Texas AgriLife Extension Service office or TDA at (512) 463-7544. A copy of the approval notice is located on the TDA Web site at