News: Public health team responds to request for aid
Story by Spc. Richard Frost
HABUR GATE, Iraq - A team of veterinary officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army, and Iraq's ministry of agriculture recently visited the port city of Habur Gate in the Kurdish region of Iraq.
"The purpose of the mission was to get a good look at the inspection process for plant and animal products coming in to northern Iraq so that we can have a better understanding of any kind of road blocks that might be present," said Army Col. Stan Wood, from McMinnville, Ore., chief of public health, 364th Civil Affairs Brigade, Camp Victory, Baghdad.
Inspection processes here can cause significant delays, said an Iraqi official. So as a result, representatives from the government of Iraq requested the assistance of the U.S. government to help solve the crisis.
Addressing these delays would aid the importation process and assist American producers looking to export their products to Iraq, added Wood. More efficient procedures could stimulate growth within the Iraqi exportation trade as well, he continued.
While visiting the port, members of the team were able to meet with Iraqi veterinary officials from Habur Gate as well as the province of Dahuk. They toured the facilities here, including the plant and grain quarantine areas, the laboratories where some of the testing is completed, and the offices where vehicle manifests and documentation are checked and verified.
"We want the Iraqis to have an effective inspection process that prevents the spread of trans-boundary diseases, but one that doesn't hold up the importation of products, so that it raises the price to the producers, which ultimately raises the price to the Iraqi consumer," John Schnittker, from Vienna, Va., an agricultural economist with the USDA based at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq said.
The conditions at the border indicate the state of the agricultural economy in Iraq, said Schnittker. He added that Iraq has seen poor farming conditions in recent years, and that this condition is apparent in the volume of animal feed that is coming into this port.
As the team witnessed, this increase in import volume has posed hefty problems to the border agents.
Habur Gate is the primary entry point into Iraq from Turkey, and thousands of trucks make their way through this single checkpoint each day. Trucks carrying a wide variety of goods such as cement, steel and other construction materials are in cue along with trucks carrying animal feed, wheat, flour and even poultry products. And these agricultural products must be inspected.
"There are important processes and procedures for goods to move from one country to the next, particularly if they are agricultural goods," Schnittker said. "Plants, animals, livestock feed, and even flour and grain products for human consumption, must be thoroughly tested to ensure that they are safe for both animals and humans alike," he added.
At the end of the tours, all the members had a chance to sit and discuss the findings of the visit. Suggestions were made to add certain lab equipment that could facilitate additional testing here, rather than sending samples to Dohuk. Currently, these samples can take upwards of 24 hours for results. Adding this new equipment could reduce that time dramatically, a USDA representative said.
"We came to some productive conclusions," Wood said. "The Iraqis were very appreciative of our efforts and said they look forward to a long-lasting relationship with their veterinary counterparts in the U.S.," he concluded.