New employee helps test pet food, fertilizer, more in State Chemist Laboratory

For immediate release: September 14, 2015

Media contact:
Katie Goetz, Public Information Officer
575-646-2804 office

NMDA’s lab helps ensure New Mexicans get what they pay for

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) – The state lab whose work helps you get what you pay for when you buy things like pet food and fertilizer in New Mexico has added a new staff member.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture’s (NMDA) State Chemist Laboratory is charged with ensuring that pet food and livestock feed, as well as commercial fertilizers and pesticides (both synthetic and organic), are what they claim to be.  Lab staff – including new hire Karla Zajac – analyze samples of these products, then check their composition against the product label to make sure the label is accurate.  If it isn’t, the product may be removed from sale until the manufacturer complies with the law by correcting the label or the product formula.

“NMDA has several programs that ensure you get what you pay for,” New Mexico Secretary of Agriculture Jeff Witte said.  “What Karla and her colleagues in the Chem Lab do is ensure that you get what you pay for when you buy everything from dog treats to plant food for your tomatoes.”

Though the lab is located in NMDA’s main office in Las Cruces, its reach is statewide.  Lab staff analyze samples that NMDA’s inspectors across the state routinely collect of organic and conventional pet food (and livestock feed), as well as organic and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, from store shelves.  Inspectors are also making sure that such commercially available products are registered with NMDA, a process required by state law to help protect consumer and environmental health.

In addition to its main regulatory and compliance function, the State Chemist Lab conducts related tests for the private sector and private individuals on a fee basis.  That can help dairy farmers know the protein, fat, and fiber content of what they’re feeding their cows.  The lab can also help farmers know the available nitrogen, potash, and phosphoric acid content of the fertilizer they may be using.

Karla is a good fit for the lab, as she studied biology at New Mexico State University, then worked in a lab in the private sector for several years.  When she’s not sporting a lab coat, gloves, and goggles, Karla enjoys caving, rock climbing, and finding other kinds of adventure with her husband Matthew.

The State Chemist Laboratory is part of NMDA’s Agricultural and Environmental Services (AES) Division.  That division’s work extends beyond pet food/livestock feed and fertilizer.  AES also works to ensure that plants entering the state are free from pests and disease.  AES is also home to another lab, which tests seeds on a fee basis to determine seed quality – a service that can save a farmer from planting seeds that won’t produce.