The two candidates for Secretary of Agriculture met in a radio debate Thursday on KMGO radio in Centerville. The Iowa salmonella egg recall was one of the topics discussed by the candidates. Democrat Francis Thicke, said the Ag Department should have been inspecting the feed for the egg operations.

“It appears that the contamination came from the feed, and the truth is that the Iowa Department of Agriculture, the Secretary of Agriculture has the authority and the responsibility to inspect commercial feed mills,” Thicke said,”and commercial feed mills are defined as those that sell feed, or distribute feed to contract feeders.” Republican incumbent, Bill Northey, disagreed with Thicke’s assessment.

“We do not know that it (salmonella) came from feed, unless Francis has some other information that I’d love to be able see,” Northey said, “F-D-A is still doing the research, in fact they really believe, and some of the numbers that I’ve seen, suggest that it came from contamination from rodents and birds that got into the laying buildings themselves. They were poorly taken care of.”

Northey says the feed mill that supplied the egg farms did not fall under the Ag Department’s jurisdiction. Northey says they do inspect commercial mills, and those that are selling to others and contract feeding. But he says the same person that was grinding the feed owned the birds and the Ag Department and Attorney General are trying to find out if the egg company misrepresented its relationship regarding the feed.

Northey says the inspections they do at the Ag Department are for grain quality and not food safety, although they recently signed a contract to do some food safety inspections for the F-D-A. Thicke says one of the facilities did fall under the Ag Department jurisdiction.

Thicke says he does believe that the Hillandale farm did fall under the definition of a contract farm under the Iowa code and that could be debated. He says if they are trying to get around the law, then the Ag Secretary has the authority to write rules to close the loopholes in the law. The two candidates were cordial throughout the debate, and did agree on one issue.

Thicke says the D.N.R. should be the agency that oversees water quality. Thicke says the ag department has a role in education and the D.N.R. is more of a regulatory agency. And he says farmers might tend to resent the department of agriculture if they had to take the regulatory role.

Northey agreed, he says pure, clean water type of regulations belong with the D.N.R. — he says livestock regulation for example. Northey says the Ag Department is doing some clean water things that involve voluntary actions, but not a regulatory role. The two candidates disagreed on how to proceed with support of ethanol production. Thicke says he’d like to see the state move to the next level beyond using corn to using perennial crops for ethanol and biodiesel.

“And I would point out that I believe Bill has distorted my position on this issue, saying that I am in favor of abandoning the ethanol industry, which is not the case,” Thicke said, “We have a lot of public money invested in the ethanol and biodiesel industry, and we do not want to jerk the rug out from underneath them and cause them to go bankrupt.” Thick says he wants to stop putting public money into building new ethanol plants with public money, and instead invest public money in the next generation of biofuel plants. Northey says he supports the next generation of renewable fuels, he believes it is wrong to abandon the current technologies.

Northey says he doesn’t think it’s the right thing to tell people not to build ethanol plants, and asked Thicke which of the current ethanol plants shouldn’t have been built. Northey says the state should encourage investment. Thicke responded he wants to continue investing, just not with public money in the corn ethanol plants. Thicke runs a small, organic dairy, bottling milk and producing yogurt and cheese on his farm near Fairfield. Northey runs a grain farm near Spirit Lake.