Agriculture Secretary Candidates Discuss Animal Health

The Republican candidates for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture gathered in Des Moines for an hour and a half discussion on live radio with KXEL and the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network.

Candidates talked over a variety of issues, but one challenge the secretary position deals with are animal disease outbreaks. The Food Safety and Animal Health Division at the Iowa Department of Agriculture plays a big role in dealing with those problems, like the highly pathogenic avian influenza that affected 60 million birds in 2015.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture incumbent, Mike Naig was deputy secretary at the time and says they learned from the largest animal disease outbreak in U.S. history and have done a lot since.

Naig says, "We've staffed up, we've revised our foot and mouth disease plan, our high path AI plan, we've exercised those plans. It's critically important that we're working with private industry and producers across the state."

State Senator Dan Zumbach says prevention is important, but he wants to deal with animal disease by building leadership at the department.

Zumbach says, "There needs to be a vivid, clear chain of command between our local, state, and federal officials along with the private industry. And some of that didn't happen, because there were some glitches on disposal and travel."

Craig Lang says in order to trace and stop disease outbreaks immediately, the department needs access to homeland security and the national guard to quarantine Iowa animals.

Lang says, "We have to have in place, a protocol that shuts down transportation that affects both the large and the small poultry producer. The premise ID is very important."

Premise ID is a federal rule that helps trace farm animal health, Chad Ingels thinks that ID needs to be promoted more.

Ingels says, "Whether they have five chickens or a thousand head of hogs, that's a voluntary program that's been going on, but we need to assure that it's going on at every location. We need to update software within the department."

Ray Gaesser says the team at the agriculture department has the experience needed to deal with future outbreaks. He says the secretary of agriculture needs to work with other states to be better prepared.

Gaesser says, "I've also participated in meetings with other state agriculture secretaries and leaders there, and having that conversation with our neighboring states is really important."

The primary vote is next week on June 5th.