Senator Chuck Grassley

Senator Chuck Grassley

Turkey producers from northwest Iowa are raising several concerns about how the federal government handled this spring’s bird flu outbreak, costing Iowa’s economy an estimated $1.2 billion.

During a roundtable discussion in Storm Lake on Tuesday afternoon, Cherokee County turkey farmer Rod Parker said there was “mass confusion” from U.S.D.A. and other governmental personnel who were sent to affected farms.

“A guy will come out today and tell you one story, another guy will come out tomorrow and tell you another story on how it’s ‘supposed’ to be done,” Parker says. “I don’t know if the rules are changing that much from day to day or if those guys are making up their own rules as they go or what. We’re not on a unified basis.”

Dana Haahr, a turkey farmer in Buena Vista County, is equally frustrated by the federal government’s handling of the outbreaks, which wiped out populations at more than 70 Iowa poultry operations.

“We’d have somebody there 21 days and then we lose contact with them and somebody else starts,” Haahr says. “Then, we’ve got to go through the whole process with them that we’ve been going through. I’ll bet they’ve got 50 pictures of the damage at my place but they can’t ever find them when we come out and talk to them. That’s the kind of things we’re running into.”

Sac County turkey producer Dave Irwin says after he euthanized his birds, he encountered several problems with how he was told to compost the bodies. Irwin says the U.S.D.A.”got caught with their pants down.” “They’ve known about this disease for years, but then when it struck, they weren’t at all ready, so what do they do? They hire more people and they have people flooding in from everywhere,” Irwin says. “It’s the old adage that you’re an expert if you’re 50 miles away from home and carrying a briefcase.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley hosted the roundtable meeting and discussed the indemnity program. Grassley questioned if the value-per-bird formula is accurate and if there are any problems with how it works. Grassley said he isn’t sure a lot of new legislation is necessary, unless the possibility of an insurance program is a reasonable outcome of the bird flu. He says at least three key issues came out during the discussion.

“Biosecurity is a much more important issue now than it’s ever been before,” Grassley says. “Secondly, for the federal government, to euthanize within 24 hours. Third, to make sure that when the farmers have questions, they get their questions answered. The words they used at this meeting was the government ought to have protocol, it ought to be in writing, they ought to treat everybody fairly and it shouldn’t be changed in the midstream.”

The U.S.D.A.says Iowa had 75 confirmed sites of the bird flu in 18 counties this spring, which led to some 32-million birds having to be euthanized. There are rising fears more outbreaks will happen this fall as migrating wild waterfowl, blamed for carrying the disease, head south.

(Reporting by Ryan Thompson, KAYL, Storm Lake)