Be careful what you become curious about.

A Davenport reader was taking an unusually long look recently at her Scott County property tax bill when a line item jumped out at her: “BANGS.” 

She asked that I investigate.

Also commonly referred to as Bang’s Eradication, the tax levy is a mere .0004 percent per $1,000 of assessed value in Scott County.

County Auditor Roxanna Moritz did the math: For fiscal year 2011, Iowa taxpayers will shell out $411,479 for Bang’s.

So what is it? I knew you’d ask.

Bang’s is named after Danish veterinarian Bernhard Bang, who made important discoveries in a disease in cattle called brucellosis. Also referred to as “contagious abortion,” because it can cause cows to lose pregnancies, brucellosis can infect humans through contaminated milk or other dairy.

The fallout is fever, chills and a severe headache.

Though your Scott County tax bill will show the levy item as Bang’s, people who pay attention to such things know it more commonly as the Brucellosis and Tuberculosis (TB) Eradication Fund.

David Schmitt is a veterinarian for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and knows a freakish amount of information about the diseases, the tax and how the money is spent.

“Part of that funding goes to pay vets $1.75 a head to vaccinate heifers,” Schmitt began. 

Another expense comes from disease scares in other states, he said. For instance, surveillance testing at cattle processing sites can spot either of the diseases. In the case of TB, a suspected lesion could present itself during processing, so the lesion is collected (gross) and, if it tests positive, the entire herd is tested.

When cattle are infected, people get very excited and look at precisely where every head in the herd has gone. In a recent case, some diseased Minnesota cows ended up in Iowa, but the state remained clean.

“We don’t have TB here,” Schmitt said. “It hasn’t happened. We’ve been free (of TB) for some time, decades. We’ve been brucellosis free since 1997.”

So, the obvious question becomes: Why are Iowans kicking in hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to eradicate something that doesn’t exist in their state?

Maybe this will help: In 2005, a couple of college professors from California and North Carolina wrote a paper, tracking history’s resistance to cattle vaccinations. Naturally, it is titled, “Not on My Farm!”

It contains the following:

“The most publicized instance of grassroots opposition to the eradication campaign was the infamous Iowa Cow War, a set of civil disturbances that broke out in eastern Iowa in 1931.”

Of course.

Lots of Iowa cattle breeders were suspicious of eradication efforts on several fronts: a distrust of science, the cost of vaccination and skepticism over the very existence of the bovine boogeymen, TB and brucellosis.

Even so, mandatory testing became the law in most states, and TB was regarded under control by 1941.

“This was a predictable outcome,” the professors’ paper states. “As more herds became TB free, their owners had an incentive to urge their political representatives to force slackers to participate in order to prevent the re-infection of clean herds.”

So, there you go. Glad I could help.

If you’re wondering about all those line items on your tax bill for “Davenport TIF,” please refer to the Iowa Big Box War of 1989.

 

Contact Barb Ickes at (563) 383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.


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