MUSCATINE — Sen. Charles Grassley stopped Wednesday in Muscatine to talk with county farmers as part of his annual 99-county tour. One thing he's taking back to Washington D.C., he said, is local concerns about African swine fever.
Not enough is being done behind the scenes to prevent the spread of the virus, Grassley said response to a question from a member of the Muscatine County Farm Bureau. The Republican senator frequently holds similar meetings with various Iowa groups.
The hemorrhagic disease is highly contagious and deadly, but not transferable to humans. ASF has not been found in the U.S., but has spread through sub-Saharan Africa, China, Vietnam and some parts of the European Union, according to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The virus does not present a food safety issue, but if it were to enter the U.S., it could wipe out livestock. For Iowa's hog producers that market around 50 million animals per year, it's a real concern. A vaccine has not been developed, so prevention is the only method available to keep animals healthy.
Grassley said the state needs a "bank of vaccines" to be prepared, and money to develop them was included in the farm bill, but not nearly enough. Research has shown the development of a vaccine is still eight to 10 years away, but one member of the farm bureau said, "We've got to live in the here and now."
Grassley said he didn't know vaccine development would take that long, or that there were multiple variants of the disease.
"Then based upon what you're telling me, the only thing we can do is take steps to make sure it doesn't get into our country," he said. "That's all we can do."
"This ASF is a life changer," the man said. "It potentially is a life-changing event for agriculture."
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Grassley also discussed trade on Wednesday. "Muscatine is a very international community," he said, "and they would appreciate agreements on trade."
He said China has returned to the soybean market, but some rehabilitation between U.S. soybean farmers and China will need to be done to restore trade to close to what it was before President Trump's tariffs. Grassley said an agreement is expected to be reached by the end of April.
Tariffs will also need to go to improve trade with Canada and Mexico. Grassley said not enough movement is being made on that front, and the uncertainty of trade is the biggest concern constituents have.
Another farm bureau member asked about progress on the border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
"Not 2,200 miles," Grassley said, "...right now, 55 miles for sure."
He said President Donald Trump "muddied up" the initiative by declaring a national emergency to secure funding for the wall, and Americans have blamed the president when congress is actually responsible.
"Congress has been giving too much power to the president," Grassley said.
Revisions to the National Emergenices Act of 1976 and the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 need to be made, Grassley said, and he will help make those changes to restrict a future president's ability to to use those acts as "subterfuge" to progress an agenda.