Food Security Initiative to grant additional $10 million, COVID-19 mink update

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Randy Romanski

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection announced an additional $10 million being invested in the state Food Security Initiative created by Governor Tony Evers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

$5 million each will go to Hunger Task Force and Feeding Wisconsin, the state's largest food banks who have also been responsible for getting many families through the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. The two organizations have already received several million dollars through the initiative. In total, Evers has designated $75 million in funding for the initiative.

The grant money will be used for food purchasing from Wisconsin farmers and processors, and will also be used for distribution, storage and transportation. The initiative is intended to help both Wisconsin families and those in the ag industry.

"COVID-19 has brought uncertainty for many people, but no one should have to worry about how they’ll feed themselves or their family," Romanski said. "The Food Security Initiative has already helped many organizations adjust to the pandemic and provide high-quality, nutritious Wisconsin food products to people in need across our state."

"Hunger Task Force is extremely proud to utilize these funds to purchase Wisconsin products including milk, cheese, pork, beef, potatoes, and cherries," said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force.

"At a time when we are seeing a 70% increase in demand for our services and our food banks are purchasing more food than ever before, these funds are enabling us to source great Wisconsin products to distribute to our neighbors faced with food insecurity during this challenging time," said Stephanie Jung Dorfman, executive director of Feeding Wisconsin.

Coronavirus-infected mink farms still under quarantine

After confirming a second positive test of COVID-19 among mink in Taylor County, Romanski said the department is still working with several agencies to figure out the next step forward. He said DATCP is communicating with Centers for Disease Control, US Department of Agriculture, WI Department of Natural Resources, WI Department of Human Health Services and local veterinary facilities.

"As with any animal disease outbreak, animal and human health officials at all levels are trying to gather as much information as possible to effectively control the spread of the virus while keeping the industry viable," Romanski said.

Romanski claimed mink and related animals of the Mustela family, including otters, ferrets and weasels, are more susceptible to coronavirus due to their "biology." He said other types of livestock and farm animals are not at risk of contracting the disease. Romanski added that the mink that test positive are being composted after they die to avoid any further spread.

It's unclear how two separate farms in the same county both had positive tests, Romanski said, because the mink have not been moved between farms. Both farms are still under quarantine, which will be lifted under the guidance of state veterinary experts and animal health specialists, he said.

"One of the most important things that we think we've been able to do, and again credit to our veterinary staff at the Division of Animal Health, is reach out to the industry with additional measures to protect themselves and share information about best practices," Romanski said.

Keeping African Swine Fever virus at bay

Romanski also spoke on concerns of ASF finding its way to the US from recent outbreaks in several countries, including Germany and China, whose pork industries have been severely affected.

A work group will study best practices on preventing ASF from spreading to American farms, Romanski said. So far, Romanski said the plan is to work with the pork industry to identify gaps in disease surveillance among export and import routes and review testing protocols. They'll also be looking at procedures for depopulation should the virus find its way inside the US border, leading to discussion with Canada and Mexico.

"The important step in this is the work group that's been established, and there will be continued discussion about ways that those three countries can use their joint resources to prevent ASF from getting here because, as we've seen from other countries that have experienced this, it can take a quick and devastating toll," Romanski said.