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ODA wants feasibility study on combining labs

The state ag department now has five separate testing facilities for the programs, including cannabis, it regulates.

CAPITAL BUREAU - The state ag department now has five separate testing facilities for the programs, including cannabis, it regulates. ODA wants $200,000 from the Legislature to study the feasibility of combining those labs into one facility.SALEM — The Oregon Department of Agriculture is considering whether to put all of its laboratories under one roof.

The agency wants to fund a study on whether combining the facilities is feasible, and will likely seek the money for that analysis in the 2019 session.

ODA maintains five testing and inspection facilities: an animal health lab at ODA headquarters in Salem, a plant pathology lab, an insect testing program, a weights and measures lab, and the department's first and largest lab, the Food Innovation Center in Portland.

Lauren Henderson, the department's assistant director, says testing has become more complicated and more rigid since the Food Innovation Center opened in 1999.

For example, the state now requires that legal cannabis products be tested for certain contaminants, including pesticides.

While certified private labs perform the required testing, if those labs find a certain contaminant outside the allowable range in a cannabis sample, ODA investigates.

"Times have changed and the complexities have changed, and cannabis was just one more piece of work that, in the current space and the footprint we have, if we try to add that, it's just going to be harder to do because we frankly don't have the room to add any more equipment really up in the Portland area," Henderson said. "So we want to look at a bigger footprint to put all of our labs."

Centralizing the labs could mean certain processes could be more efficient, and it may require fewer administrative staff like receptionists or managers, Henderson said.

Henderson says they want to request about $200,000 for the feasibility study, which is expected to take 10 to 12 months, in the state's next two-year budget, which begins in mid-2019.