Health

Iowa ag secretary: State better prepared for bird flu

Mike Naig said Iowa learned lessons from devastating 2015 outbreak

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig talks with the founders of SwineTech on Wednesday in their future offices in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig talks with the founders of SwineTech on Wednesday in their future offices in Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa is better prepared to deal with avian influenza, thanks to lessons learned during an 2015 outbreak that resulted in a large economic hit for the state, Iowa’s new agriculture secretary said Wednesday.

“No doubt we’re better prepared, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said in an interview with The Gazette. “We on the government response are better prepared. Industry has also made significant investments in biosecurity, washing trucks, showering in-and-out facilities, any number of things.”

Naig spoke to The Gazette as he is in his third week as secretary. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds named Naig to the post earlier this month after former secretary Bill Northey resigned to serve as an undersecretary with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Naig had previously served as deputy director of the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship since 2013.

Naig will serve the remainder of Northey’s term, which ends this year, and he is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for the job in this year’s June 5 primary. Four other Republicans and one Democrat also have filed to run for the position.

Two weeks ago, Naig’s office issued a notice that a low-pathogenic strain of avian influenza had been confirmed in Texas and Missouri.

Naig said no instances of the disease have been found in Iowa, the top egg producing state in the nation.

The low-pathogenic strain is “good news” since birds can more easily recover from the disease, he said.

Even so, Naig wanted to caution Iowa producers about outbreaks down south.

“Our assumption is that during the spring migration and the fall migration that the wild waterfowl that are coming through our area are carrying something that would be harmful to our commercial industry,” Naig said.

The 2015 outbreak of bird flu, a high-pathogenic strain, resulted in the deaths of more than 30 million hens in Iowa. An Iowa Farm Bureau Federation re[prt put the cost for Iowa’s economy at $1.2 billion, with more than 8,400 jobs lost.

Naig said the top lesson learned from 2015 was that his department and the industry had to move faster to dispose of infected birds.

“I think lesson No. 1 was we collectively had to move faster to depopulate the birds that were impacted so we could minimize the opportunity to spread virus,” he said.

While in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Naig also toured SwineTech, a Cedar Rapids-based startup developing a device to reduce piglet deaths.

He said innovation in agriculture will be required as the world faces a growing population.

“We’ve got this massive demand that’s coming at us, nine-plus billion people by 2050,” he said. “We will need innovation in every aspect of what we’re doing, from production to processing to logistics to waste reduction.”

Naig also said he hopes the Trump administration and foreign countries can work quickly to resolve any disruptions caused by newly imposed tariffs or ongoing trade talks, such as the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’re already on a declining farm income situation, with projections of downward pressure on that farm income,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of room on margin here for lower prices heading into 2018. That’s the backdrop all of this is painted on.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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