Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey

Iowa Ag Secretary Bill Northey

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey is attending a meeting in Baltimore this week focused on the bird flu. The USDA and the U.S. Poultry industry are co-hosting the Avian Influenza and Poultry Trade International Conference, which starts this evening.

Northey says he hopes to learn more about what has worked for other states in their battles with avian flu. “You know, what worked to put birds down faster and what worked to have good bio security between facilities? And, is somebody else doing something different than what we’ve been doing?” Northey says.

The USDA has been criticized for both poor communication and the slow depopulation of flocks during the ongoing outbreaks of avian flu. More than 48 million birds have been affected by the virus. Over half of those birds are Iowa egg-laying hens.

In the wake of the virus, many countries have placed partial to total bans on U.S. poultry imports. Northey calls the bans an “overreaction” to the ongoing outbreaks. He also says some countries are exploiting avian flu for their own economic gain.

“They’re using this as an opportunity to limit opportunity to their own producers in their own countries,” Northey says. “I hope we’re able to approach that and see, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together.’ We all need to be able to have trade. We all need to be able to keep our own bird populations safe. We can did it in a way that doesn’t destroy each other’s industry or trade relationships.”

China and South Korea now prohibit all U.S. poultry imports. Other countries such as the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Mexico only limit or ban poultry imports from states where bird flu has been detected.

The 2014-2015 avian flu outbreak has been called the worst animal health emergency in U.S. history. Last week, Governor Terry Branstad requested major disaster declarations for four Iowa counties (Buena Vista, Sioux, Webster and Wright) from President Barack Obama.

By Sarah Boden, Iowa Public Radio, additional reporting by Pat Curtis, Radio Iowa