The Office of the Indiana State Chemist recently appointed Patricia Dunn as its new feed program administrator. In her new position, Dunn and a number of feed inspectors moniter labeling on animals feed packages to ensure accuracy and safety.
“Every livestock or pet food or special pet food has to be labeled,” Dunn said. “(We do) guaranteed analysis for protein, fat, fiber and vitamins and minerals, and so if they guarantee it, we look at that to make sure what they say is actually in it.”
Along with truth in labeling, Dunn does surveillance on crops like corn, looking for protein levels in its mycotoxins.
Though Dunn inspects both livestock feed and pet food items, she said her focus has been on pet food, since the industry has grown exponentially in recent history.
“We do have a lot of livestock in Indiana, but the pet products are exploding,,” she said. “Pet stores, feed stores and pet shops, especially if you’re in Indianapolis, it’s on every single corner.”
Dunn graduated from Purdue in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in animals science. Though going to vet school crossed her mind, she wasn’t convinced going down that career path was the right choice for her, she said.
“I worked at a vet’s office when I was in high school,” Dunn said, “So I enjoyed the animals and the vet’s office, but I wasn’t necessarily sold on going into the practice.”
OISC is housed inside the Biochemistry Building on campus. According to Mark Leblanc, state chemist and seed commissioner, it’s a unique situation.
“This office was established in 1881 by the legislature, and it was originally located at the university because that’s where your expertise was,” Leblanc said. “That’s where the chemistry experts were at the time.”
Other states that house their offices in universities include Kentucky and Texas. Most of the time, however, the department is included with the State Department of Agriculture.
The office is home to agents, like Dunn, who specialize in the regulation of different agricultural practices like feed, seed, pesticides and fertilizer, which Leblanc said helped kickstart modern chemistry.
“Most of these programs started in the mid to late 1880s to regulate fertilizer and back then, fertilizer was basically manure,” Leblanc said. “And the idea of routine and consistent chemistry rose out of this work.”
Even the Food and Drug Administration formed from the experiments of a state chemist.
Harvey Wiley, Indiana’s first state chemist, experimented to prove that what was going into the population’s food at the time was poisonous, Leblanc said. For his experiments, he rounded up a group of men who volunteered to be intentionally poisoned. They were dubbed the ‘poison squad.’
“He was basically almost single handedly responsible for establishing the first federal laws for food,” Leblanc said.
As the current state chemist, Leblanc manages the programs, but he says his title is more or less ceremonial.
“The law often cites that the state chemist is the final authority, but it’s really in title only,” Leblanc said. “My position is appointed by the governor, but I actually report up to the dean of the College of Agriculture.”