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Archive for Wednesday, March 20, 2002

handling prompts hearing

March 20, 2002

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— Some legislators remained concerned Tuesday about the Kansas Animal Health Department's ability to dispel rumors or inform the public about foot-and-mouth disease.

"I'm a bit concerned that we're going in the wrong direction," said Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Livestock Commissioner George Teagarden told the Senate committee his agency is working on controlling information to the public and state officials after last week's unfounded rumor of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in northeast Kansas.

In Washington, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman to investigate how the rumor started.

On March 12, a rumor that nine cows at the Holton Livestock Market were infected with foot-and-mouth disease spread quickly throughout the Midwest and to the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

Analysts estimate that the rumor cost the industry as much as $50 million nationwide after prices dropped $1.50 per hundredweight for market cattle. Prices have rebounded slightly.

At the Statehouse, Senate Agriculture Committee member Robert Tyson, R-Parker, questioned Teagarden's ties to the Kansas Livestock Assn. The group nominated Teagarden for his position.

"I do not take orders from the KLA," Teagarden said. "I'm not obligated in any way to the KLA, except that they are extremely helpful."

Under state law, the KLA's president serves on the seven-member Kansas Animal Health Board. The other six members are nominated by the KLA and appointed by the governor.

The board appoints the livestock commissioner.

Committee members said Tuesday that Teagarden had notified state Agriculture Secretary Jamie Clover Adams and media outlets too slowly that cattle were being tested. Adams didn't have details until the afternoon of March 13.

Teagarden said he understood the concerns but that he hesitated to tell too many people.

Roberts said information about testing of livestock should be "safeguarded from release" until test results are in. Roberts said he is concerned someone may have leaked information about testing to manipulate the cattle or feed grain markets.

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