The Hawk Eye. May 26, 2015.
Egg and poultry producers in Iowa and 11 other states are facing financial catastrophe as the deadliest avian flu outbreak in U.S. history continues to kill their flocks.
The producers' plight has long tentacles. Consumers who eat eggs, chicken and turkey likely will pay a price at the grocery store as supplies of poultry meat and eggs drop off. Spot shortages could prevail until the epidemic burns itself out and flocks can be rebuilt. Sadly, with the virus still raging there is no timetable for rebuilding efforts to start.
The USDA estimates to halt the worst avian flu outbreak in history 38 million birds exposed to or infected with the H5N2 virus must be destroyed and disposed of nationwide.
As the egg production capitol of the country, Iowa will lose an unimaginable 25 million birds — four of every 10. Most will end up composted, cremated and/or buried in landfills.
The virus does not normally affect humans. But it can be spread in densely populated factory farms by human operators who don't practice adequate "bio-security." Allegations of inadequate hygiene on the nation's bird farms have been raised by the media. But sadly not soon enough to head off the outbreak. Neither producers nor regulators appear to have taken their responsibilities seriously.
Consequently, poultry farmers' losses will be in the billions of dollars, officials estimate.
That will have a domino effect on the economies of states like Iowa. The one positive element of the catastrophe is that unlike cattle herds, chicken and turkey flocks can be rebuilt relatively quickly. It's due to the quick growth and short life cycle of birds compared to cows or hogs. The poultry industry's recovery of course hinges on successfully decontaminating infected farms, finding healthy birds to reproduce, and paying infinitely far greater attention to bio-safety.
Another real danger for Iowa's and other state's poultry growers runs deep in the human psyche. Worried consumers around the country are already wondering if it's safe to buy poultry products. It's a public relations nightmare that must be addressed.
A bad situation grew even gloomier for producers when Iowa officials and those in other infected states decreed last week that live chickens, ducks and turkeys will be banned from their respective state fairs' livestock exhibits later this summer.
The last situation state and federal authorities need to deal with is the potential, however minimal, that the virus might jump to people as it did in Asia a decade ago. A crowded fair, like a crowded henhouse, would be a pathogen's dream environment.
While the bird ban is appropriate, such an abundance of caution is no less another black eye for the sullied reputations of states that rely heavily on avian agriculture.
That breach of trust can be repaired only when producers clean up their act.
The Des Moines Register. May 27, 2015.
Legislature shouldn't micromanage doctors
The 150 members of the Iowa Legislature are not doctors. A few lawmakers have medical backgrounds, but as a group they are not health researchers or scientists. Yet every once in a while they pretend they are. That never leads to anything good.
In February, the Iowa Senate voted 49-0 to require health clinics to tell patients when their mammograms indicated they had dense breast tissue, which "may make it more difficult to evaluate the results of your mammogram and may also be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer." The boilerplate statement, codified in Senate File 205, encouraged patients to consult with their health providers to decide "which additional screening options" may be right for them.
Supporters of the bill want to help women detect any cancer early. Elected officials do not want to defy proposals advocated by the powerful breast cancer lobby. They may have thought requiring a simple notification was no big deal.
Yet this type of micromanaging the health profession is a big deal. It is also a bad idea and a bad precedent. There are potentially hundreds of notifications and caveats health professionals could give patients. The Code of Iowa is not the place to require that they be provided.
Iowans trust their doctors to provide current and relevant information about health and testing, not a pre-written 84-word paragraph that could be based on outdated medical findings.
In fact, less than three months after the Senate vote, a new study about dense breast tissue was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Among the findings: Many women with dense breast tissue do not have a high enough risk of cancer to justify additional tests.
More studies will be done on this issue. Going forward, there will likely be changes in screening technology, guidelines and even how "dense tissue" is defined. Is Iowa's part-time, citizen legislature going to keep up with all that and update the law? Are they going to require doctors to issue other type of notifications to patients? Where would such meddling end?
Fortunately, the Iowa House did not pursue SF 205. Yet unanimous approval by the Senate indicates members did not even think through the larger implications of what they were supporting. One week before the vote, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article that outlined concerns about breast-density notification laws, which have been passed in 22 states.
"The movement to inform women about their breast density has been driven primarily by grassroots organizations and laypeople. The medical community has been more cautious," according to the article. It goes on to note that dense breasts are "normal and common," and assessing a woman's risk for cancer is complicated.
It is doubtful many state lawmakers subscribe to this or any other medical journal. It's also unlikely they thought about how such a notification could lead women to seek unnecessary screening, which can lead to unnecessary treatment, false positives, and increased anxiety in patients. They didn't consider how this is the very type of endeavor that can encourage the overuse of care and increase health costs in a country that already spends more per person than any other country in the world.
No, lawmakers don't think about all that. Which is exactly why going forward they should leave the intricacies of health care to the professionals.
Quad-City Times. May 27, 2015.
Let 'em work overtime
We don't hear too much angst from readers about their Iowa legislators working overtime.
The General Assembly entered its 20th week gridlocked over matters they should have managed in the first week. Instead of doing the work of legislating, House Republicans hung fast to their session-opening position of limiting education funding to less than the rate of inflation, assuring unnecessary and harmful education cuts for Iowa schoolchildren.
Senate Democrats tried several approaches, including a compromise that accommodated the House Republican position, but added some additional, one-time funding to help close the gap.
House Republicans were unmoved, yet failed to offer any other substantive compromise.
So on May 27, the legislature is stuck pretty much where it was Jan. 27.
House Republicans set an overall spending target even lower than the governor's. That tells us Gov. Branstad is unable or unwilling to persuade his fellow Republicans to follow his leadership on this issue.
Neither the Democrats nor Gov. Branstad's spending proposals will break Iowa's budget.
We know what would happen in most workplaces if employees consistently failed to work through roadblocks. Initially, they'd be assigned to work overtime until the job was done. If they proved unable or unwilling to complete the work, they would be replaced.
Iowa's House Republicans have been intransigent on a budget issue they should have resolved weeks ago. They know their positions do not have the votes to succeed. Yet they've simply refused to offer meaningful compromises.
Legislative leadership always requires compromise. After declining to lead for the first 19 weeks, House Republicans arrive at week 20 with the future of this session and Iowa schoolchildren entirely in their hands. They can act the only way legislators are able - with concrete compromise proposals.
Or they can continue declining leadership and simply rack up overtime expenses.
Telegraph Herald. May 27, 2015.
Iowa ban on texting and driving needs teeth
The next time you motor across town, take note of whether you see any drivers texting. Or how many are texting. They aren't difficult to spot. There's the telltale phone in one hand and the thumbs busily working the bottom of the screen while the bobbing head attempts to keep tabs on what's happening on the street ahead.
You might even see them veer into another lane or get too close to a parked car. Inevitably, they'll encounter one of Dubuque's many uncontrolled intersections and have no idea when it's their turn to pull out.
The activity you're witnessing is obviously dangerous and it's even illegal. But a police officer witnessing the same erratic pattern can't pull that driver over just for violating the state's texting law. There needs to be another reason to make that traffic stop.
Although Iowa has had a law making texting and driving illegal since 2010, the state has yet to reclassify the violation as a primary offense. In other words, texting and driving, by itself, cannot result in a stop by police.
Don't try it elsewhere. In 41 other states, including Illinois and Wisconsin, texting and driving is a primary offense and will get you a ticket. But Iowa remains among a handful of states where it is consider a secondary offense and can only be written up in conjunction with another offense.
Some Iowa lawmakers have been poised to change that all session. So far, though, it hasn't happened. Though a measure making texting and driving a primary offense passed the Iowa Senate 44-6 in March, the legislation stalled in the House. A conference committee met recently on a couple of transportation issues, and the texting-as-a-primary-offense issue was back on the table. Though lawmakers aren't sure whether anything will get done this year, the measure is still alive.
Passage shouldn't require lengthy debate.
The AAA Foundation's latest Traffic Safety Culture Index found 27 percent of drivers report they sometimes send texts or emails while driving -- although 79 percent of drivers say it is a very serious threat to safety.
So, knowing a behavior is dangerous doesn't necessarily deter drivers from engaging in that behavior. Perhaps the threat of penalty will help change behaviors. A 2015 Des Moines Register poll found 85 percent of Iowans support a change in the law to make texting a primary offense.
Texting and driving is illegal in Iowa, and for good reason. It's time the state acts like it, and give the law the teeth of enforcement by make texting a primary offense.