Something you may not have thought about, along with its status as the No. 1 pork production state, Iowa is No. 1 in egg production. Consequently it is now focusing on strategies to address an avian influenza outbreak-- should one occur. Scientists, producers and government and industry leaders sat down at Iowa State University to discuss the impacts, risks and control of avian influenza. Others participated via teleconference to the "Avian Influenza: Animal and Agricultural Impact" forum.

"We have two goals in regards to avian influenza. We must protect public health and help the public understand the risk, and we must protect the poultry industry," says John Lawrence, Iowa State extension livestock economist.

Avian influenza was first identified more than 100 years ago during an outbreak in Italy. Since then, the disease has popped up at irregular intervals around the world. Asia's current outbreak has raised concerns.

Darrell Trampel, Extension poultry specialist and veterinary diagnostic professor, outlined the various virus strains that causes avian influenza and described the virus transfer among birds and potentially to humans.

He emphasized that Iowa is prepared for an outbreak because a statewide plan has been developed, led by State Veterinarian John Schiltz. "We have a 16-page plan for an outbreak of poultry disease," Trampel says. The plan was developed with close cooperation from the poultry industry, according to Kevin Vinchattle, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association and Iowa Egg Council.

It involves the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the State Veterinarian's office, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as local officials. "We have been learning what each organization will do relative to a disaster, and are working to determine each agency's roles and authorities," notes David Miller, HLSEM administrator.

Forum participants also discussed the need to communicate with the public. "People are concerned," says Sam Beattie, Extension food safety specialist. "We are trying to help the public overcome fear of the unknown by educating them about the disease."