Monday, August 9, 2021

West Nile Virus is waking up again, a reminder to keep your horse up-to-date on vaccinations

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

West Nile virus in Washington is back. Already this year several mosquito pools are testing positive for West Nile virus as well as confirmed human and equine cases.  

Mosquito pools around Washington
state have tested positive for West Nile Virus. 
Mosquito pools in Grant, Franklin, Walla Walla, and Yakima counties have been showing up with positive results for West Nile virus according to the Washington State Department of Health. Due to limited resources, DOH only monitors for West Nile virus in a few counties. This means the virus is likely widespread in our state beyond the above-mentioned counties.

In addition to the mosquito pools detected, there has been a human, two horses in the Yakima County, and one horse in Benton/Franklin County diagnosed with the disease. The status of the person diagnosed with the virus is unknown at this time.

One of the diagnosed horses was euthanized due to ataxia (the loss of full control of bodily movements) and becoming recumbent (the inability to get up without assistance). The vaccine history of the horse is unknown, however, the vaccine is very effective at prevention, and experts believe this horse was most likely unvaccinated or under-vaccinated.

Signs of West Nile virus in horses include: fever, a lack of coordination, urine dribbling, an inability to rise, muscle twitching, and staggering. Other symptoms can include: a fever of 102.5 degrees F or higher, discharge from eyes or nose, limb edema or swelling, spontaneous abortions, or neurologic signs such as an unsteady gait, weakness, and lack of tail tone.

Horses are diagnosed by symptoms and blood testing. There is no treatment except supportive anti-inflammatories.

Don’t wait, please vaccinate

WSDA field veterinarian Dr. Ben Smith said the disease is not always fatal to the infected horse, but most cases that do prove deadly occur in unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated animals.

“Some animals recover in full, while others have neurological deficits for life or will be unable to get up and must be euthanized,” Dr. Smith said. “About 33 percent of those cases will not survive.”

If your horse is not vaccinated, it will take two injections three weeks apart and a yearly booster. It is never too late.  One vaccination usually will help decrease the severity of disease, but full protection needs a booster at the correct time.

“Please don’t wait,” Smith added. “This infection is very devastating and can be easily prevented with proper vaccination.”

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes that have fed on infected birds and while it can sicken people, horses, birds and other animals, it does not directly spread from horses to humans or other animals.

Veterinarians who diagnose potential West Nile virus cases should contact the State Veterinarian’s Office at (360) 902-1878.

Visit WSDA’s West Nile virus webpage or the state Department of Health for more information.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

WSDA grant funds new offices for Pierce County food bank, projects statewide in support of food assistance

Hector Castro
WSDA Communications

The new office building for the Emergency Food Network, tucked just off South Tacoma Way in Lakewood, is a simple, modular building across the street from the organization’s food distribution warehouse.

New offices for the Emergency Food Network.
There is a tidy vegetable garden out front and 10 offices inside that open onto an ample meeting room. Construction of the $622,000 office building was one of dozens of projects funded statewide through a WSDA grant program for food assistance organizations.

To Michelle Douglas, CEO of the Emergency Food Network, the building’s very existence is worth celebrating.

“We could not be more excited for our new building and the impact it will have on our work,” she said in a statement announcing the building’s ribbon cutting ceremony last week.

New offices were on EFN’s to-do list for the past few years, but the COVID-19 pandemic made the need acute. Like many food assistance providers, EFN saw a huge increase in need as the pandemic spread, distributing 19.5 million pounds of food in 2020, compared to 14 million pounds the year before. The rising workload meant EFN needed more staff, but employees were already squeezed in the limited office space available at their warehouse.

The WSDA supplemental capacity grant, $576,000 to EFN, was enough to complete the project.

Grant program supports to food assistance statewide

The WSDA supplemental capacity grants were funded through $6.4 million provided by the Legislature in the last session, using funds provided earlier from federal COVID relief money.

WSDA Director Sandison speaking at the ribbon cutting for
the new building for the Emergency Food Network.

The grants were meant to address the pressures on the state’s emergency food system. There was one catch – the money had to be spent by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, with most of the grants awarded in March and April.

Nevertheless, WSDA managed to provide grants to more than 80 food assistance organizations in 25 Washington counties, with awards ranging from $2,400 to $700,000.

The grants funded a box truck with a lift gate for a food bank in Yakima County, a walk-in cooler for another organization in Whatcom County, as well as building improvements, freezers, pallet jacks, shelving, forklifts, and other vehicles for food assistance operations statewide.

Michelle Douglas (L) is CEO of the Emergency Food Network.
Also pictured: WSDA Director Sandison and communications
director Hector Castro, EFN development director Elizabeth Howe (R).
(Photo credit: Emergency Food Network)
“Agriculture has always been about feeding people,” WSDA Director Derek Sandison said. “Making sure that our food assistance safety net remains strong and robust is a natural extension of what we do at WSDA. As the need remains high, we plan to continue efforts like these to provide on-going support for food assistance providers and the communities they serve.”

WSDA distributes millions of dollars annually through its Food Assistance Program, contracting with hunger relief organizations and Tribes in all 39 counties to make sure government-funded food assistance resources are available to people across the state. The agency also administers U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that bring not just dollars, but millions of dollars’ worth of food into food banks, food pantries, and tribal programs.

Dona Ponepinto, president of United Way of Pierce County,
with EFN's Douglas and WSDA Director Sandison.
The van was donated by the United Way.
(Photo credit: Emergency Food Network)
But in 2020, WSDA had to increase its food assistance efforts in response
to the need for food assistance brought on by the pandemic and related economic hardship. The agency was able to obtain additional state and federal COVID-relief funds, using the money to buy food, supplies and other materials needed to support food assistance efforts statewide.

Money for the supplemental capacity grants is just one of the appropriations legislators provided to WSDA this past session in support of on-going food assistance efforts, including an additional $23 million to increase support for hunger relief organizations, farm to community initiatives, local food purchasing, and capacity grants. The next round of grant applications will be coming in early fall.

You can read more about WSDA’s efforts in our Ag Briefs blog post, “Food security during COVID-19, WSDA rises to the challenge” and this infographic, “Food security during COVID-19.”

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

What WDSA Does Part 1: How cannabis testing helps ensure proper pesticide use

Amber Betts
WSDA Communications

Michael Romias breaks down
cannabis samples into a fine powder
after cryogenically freezing them.
The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is widely known for supporting farmers, inspecting commodities, ensuring food safety, and managing the types of pesticides used across the state.

But as someone new to the agency, I am learning that WSDA does so much more.

One example right in downtown Yakima can be found at the Chemical and Hop Laboratory, part of WSDA’s Plant Protection Division. Like any lab, WSDA’s is filled with beakers, canisters of various gases, and an array of scientific equipment that can be daunting to the non-scientist.

One of the activities at this lab is testing various crops to identify the types of pesticides used during production, ensuring proper pesticide use. Recently, those crops have included cannabis.

On a recent visit, I was able to watch a chemist test samples of cannabis to ensure that growers are using the proper pesticides on their crop.

Samples are frozen with
liquid nitrogen in a
process called
"cryogenic grinding."
Since 2016, WSDA has tested cannabis under an agreement with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), which provides funds for the tests and the samples being tested.

Frozen and broken down
samples head to testing,
where the pesticide used
is extracted from
the sample. 
Cannabis is not a federally recognized crop, so the EPA has never identified any pesticide products specifically for use in cannabis production. However, WSDA, which regulates pesticides used and distributed in Washington, developed a list of pesticides allowable for use in cannabis production.

To test cannabis, chemists freeze samples with liquid nitrogen. Cool, right? This allows them to chisel the samples into a fine powder from which they can extract the pesticide used on the product and use the mass spectrometer (yes, like in the cop shows) to determine if the pesticides meet WSDA criteria for use in cannabis production. There are 331 pesticide products allowed for use on marijuana, as long as all applicable label directions are followed. When testing, WSDA tests for the presence of 230 active ingredients, and the majority of them are not on the allowed list.

A sample is shown right after
being frozen and broken down
into powdery form, perfect for extracting
the pesticide used to grow the crop. 

WSDA then provides those results to the WSLCB, which regulates Washington’s cannabis industry and will determine next steps after reviewing test results.

The testing conducted at the Chemical and Hop Laboratory is one way that WSDA fulfills its mission to protect public health, Washington's food supply, the agriculture industry, and the environment. As a new media relations coordinator for the agency, I plan to share more stories about the work of WSDA and its staff, so look out for the next edition of “What WSDA Does.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Hungry hornet babies – what’s on their menu in the PNW?

Karla Salp

While the scientific literature indicates what Asian giant hornets eat in their native region, scientists didn’t know what they would eat in the Pacific Northwest – until now.

This story starts at the end - examining the fecal matter, or frass, found in the cells with the Asian giant hornet larvae. To determine what the baby hornets had been eating locally, the WSDA molecular diagnostics lab ran DNA analysis on hornet frass.

The results showed some of what scientists expected – paper wasps and honey bees, for example. But some things – like cow (possibly from a discarded hamburger?) – came as a bit of a surprise. Take a look at what else the hornet larvae have been eating on the menu below.

pretend Asian giant hornet menu

Finding out what hornets were eating in Washington provides for more than just passing curiosity and a quirky graphic. This information gives a first glimpse at what insect populations could be harmed if the Asian giant hornets establish themselves here.

Visit to learn more about Asian giant hornets.