STATES ask for congressional inquiry into handling of wheat disease outbreak - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

STATES ask for congressional inquiry into handling of wheat disease outbreak


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Convinced the federal government didn't respond quickly enough to the recent outbreak of a contagious wheat disease, grain officials in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas plan to ask for a congressional inquiry into the matter.

The disease, Karnal bunt, broke out about three weeks ago in Throckmorton and Young counties in Texas, but Oklahoma Agriculture Secretary Dennis Howard and others say they received their first notice of the situation on Friday.

``It's totally unacceptable what they've done,'' said Joe Neal Hampton, Oklahoma Grain and Feed Association president. ``In our opinion their bureaucracy and their policy allowed the possible contamination of Oklahoma and Kansas wheat.''

Hampton faxed a letter Wednesday to U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, requesting the inquiry. His counterparts in Kansas, Tom Tunnell, and Texas, Ben Boerner, verified that they also want an inquiry into the Agriculture Department's response.

Lucas said he tried to call U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman after getting the letter, but she had not called him back.

Lucas said the inquiry ultimately could end with farmers and grain handlers getting compensation from the government for their losses from Karnal bunt.

A wheat kernel infected with Karnal bunt smells and tastes fishy, but is not considered a health hazard.

Still, state agriculture officials worry the disease could spook foreign wheat buyers who account for 50 percent of Oklahoma's wheat sales.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Hallie Pickhardt said the agency had not heard about the inquiry and that it moved swiftly after becoming aware of a grain elevator with Karnal bunt.

'' 1/8We acted immediately to test the wheat and based on those results, stopped all grain movement in and out of that facility and issued a notice to all states and our people in the field within 24 hours,'' Pickhardt said.

She said states were notified June 4 and 5 of Karnal bunt's presence in the two Texas counties about 50 miles from Oklahoma.

Howard said he was notified on June 8 and immediately ordered combines coming into Oklahoma from Texas to be blocked and inspected.

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