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Top Iowa ag officials discuss AI readiness
Iowa Correspondent

AMES, Iowa — As the nation’s largest egg-producer, Iowa is well prepared for an avian influenza outbreak, according to the state’s top agriculture officials.

“We have two goals in regards to avian influenza,” said John Lawrence, an Iowa State University (ISU) extension livestock economist who was among 35 scientists, producers, government and industry leaders at an ISU teleconference on Nov. 17.

“We must protect public health and help the public understand the risk, and we must protect the poultry industry,” Lawrence said. Cosponsored by ISU’s Institute for Food Safety and Security, the College of Agriculture, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the College of Human Sciences, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and the Iowa Poultry Assoc., the forum discussed the impact, risks and control of avian influenza, a contagious infection caused by bird flu viruses that occur naturally among birds and wild migratory birds.

The disease, which can be fatal for some domesticated birds, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys, has appeared at irregular intervals worldwide. The current outbreak in Asia has raised international concerns and sparked the ISU forum.

Among the 35 speakers at the forum were: Brent Halling, Iowa deputy secretary of agriculture; Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Assoc. and the Iowa Egg Council; Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation; Dr. Dave Schmitt, assistant state veterinarian; Dr. Darrell Trampel, ISU extension poultry veterinarian and avian pathologist, and professor in the ISU Department of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine; and Sam Beattie, ISU extension food safety specialist.

Trampel outlined the various strains of the virus that cause avian influenza and described the transfer of the virus among birds and potentially to humans. He also emphasized Iowa’s preparedness for a possible outbreak by presenting the 16-page statewide plan, which was developed in part by Vinchattle and State Veterinarian John Schiltz.

The IDALS has been working closely with the state’s poultry industry to formulate the Iowa Poultry Emergency Disease Plan, which includes preparedness and response to High Pathogenic Avian Influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease that could enter the state. The plan also involves the state veterinarian’s office and the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HLSEM).

As a result, Iowa, which has more than 92 percent of its land in production agriculture, has taken the lead in avian influenza preparedness by having one of the nation’s only emergency plans to help thwart the disease.

“We’ve got an actual poultry disease plan in place that’s just designed for poultry alone,” said Machelle Shaffer, IDALS communications director. “We’ve got other emergency plans as well but this is just designed for poultry. I think we feel pretty confident that if it should end up in the United States or Iowa that we could quickly quarantine it and lessen (its) impact on the poultry industry.”

Shaffer said because Iowa is so agriculture and livestock production-intensive, state officials know Iowa has to stay on top of avian influenza.

“The livestock business in Iowa alone is over $5 billion a year and, because we’re number one in pork, we know we have to be at the forefront of all of these diseases that may come into the state because of our huge livestock activity here,” Shaffer said. “We have had biosecurity measures for many years (and) Avian Influenza surveillance for nearly two years. That’s for all diseases, including the H5N1, which is the highly pathogenic type that they’re talking about in Asia.”

In fact, Shaffer said Iowa’s biosecurity measures are so strict that even public access to the state’s poultry farms is extremely difficult.

“That is something they just do not have in the parts of Asia that are experiencing this chicken-to-human flu,” Shaffer said. “That’s why it’s still very unlikely that that type of thing could come to Iowa or the United States because of our strict biosecurity measures.

“The U.S. has been doing more extensive testing on the wild migratory birds in Alaska, which is usually how they enter in the United States. They have been free of the disease but they’re still going to be doing all that testing. So we’re just trying to stop it at every point that we can.”

Published in the December 7, 2005 issue of Farm World.