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Lansing — The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development wants the state legislature to increase fees for food inspections to help boost its workforce.

The department licenses and inspects about 18,000 food retail, processing and warehouse facilities in Michigan. The agency also investigates possible food-borne illnesses and responds during emergencies.

“The fees haven’t been increased in 15 years and there has been a lot that has changed within that time frame. As the industry changes, we need to have the staffing capacity to be nimble enough to change with it,” department spokeswoman Jennifer Holton told MLive.com.

The agency wants to add 20 employees. The legislature has already provided $1.8 million for its fiscal year 2015 budget. To raise another $2.5 million, the department would increase inspection fees by between 9 and 180 percent over three years.

Michigan Agri-Business Association President Jim Byrum was at the group’s winter conference last week, attended by 1,100 members of the state’s agricultural industry. He said the association looks forward to discussions around the topic with the department.

“We’ve always been major supporters of the Department of Agriculture and enforcement programs and making sure we’re all on a level playing field,” Byrum said. “At the same time, we think it’s necessary to look at some comprehensive solutions and look at some innovation and technology as well to make sure we’re doing things as efficiently as we can.”

Holton said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends 280 to 320 facilities per inspector, but Michigan has 409 facilities per inspector. Fees support 26 percent of the food safety program’s cost and the new fee structure would support 37 percent of the program’s cost.

“It’s not just about regulating, it’s also about educating and bringing people into compliance,” Holton said.

Fees charged by the agency vary by facility type. The price for a retail food establishment license is $67. Under the department’s recommendations, it would increase to $134 the first year and $160 the second year before capping at $180 the third year.

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