MILWAUKEE — A senior Wisconsin agriculture official described the weeks of pro-union protests at the state Capitol as a “holocaust” during a speech on Wednesday, before apologizing hours later.

Ben Brancel, the new secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, made his remarks during a speech to the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation hours before Republican legislators passed a contentious bill stripping public workers of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

“They [lawmakers] came to town with a lot of ideas and a lot of concepts they could really work on and then they got stuck in the middle of a holocaust and a horror story that was going on in town,” Brancel told the crowd. WKOW-TV first reported about the comments.

In a statement put out by his office later, Brancel said he should have chosen his words more carefully.

“I apologize today for my unfortunate choice of words about the budget controversy,” he said. “I meant to portray the sense of turmoil in the past weeks, but I chose an inappropriate word in the context.”

He stood by his description of the legislative standoff as a “horror story.”