Disease Lab should be at Least-Risk Location

by 5m Editor
23 May 2008, at 9:50am

WASHINGTON – A new national laboratory for researching and diagnosing foreign animal diseases should be located on the US mainland in an area with small livestock and wildlife populations, the National Pork Producers Council said in congressional testimony this week.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on a replacement facility for the 54-year-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center located just off the coast of Long Island, NY, where research and diagnoses on, and development of vaccines for, foreign animal diseases take place.

Five mainland sites for the new National Bio and Agri-Defense Facility (NBAF) – in Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas – are under consideration. (Keeping the disease lab on Plum Island is still an option.) NPPC told the subcommittee that each area should be assessed for:

  • Susceptible animal populations that could be exposed to an outbreak should disease organisms escape from the facility.
  • The ability of the federal and state governments to quickly control and eradicate a disease.
  • The impact of an outbreak on the local environment and the wildlife population.
  • The economic consequences to the area’s livestock industry if an outbreak were to occur.

NPPC, which said the Plum Island facility cannot continue to operate in its current state and that there are serious drawbacks to building a new facility – or refurbishing the existing one – on the island, testified that whichever location is chosen, the new facility should be built to meet needs and objectives related to a predetermined scope of work – that is, the type of research and diagnostic work that must be undertaken.

NPPC asked that the US Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Plum Island, work with the animal agriculture industry to define a scope of work for the NBAF.

"The location of the NBAF must be based on assessed risks rather than on which entity is willing to build such a facility," said Howard Hill, a veterinarian and COO of Iowa Select Farms, who testified on behalf of NPPC.

"Locations need to be reexamined to see if the 'island effect' can be recreated by siting the facility in an area with low densities of livestock and wildlife. And we need the new facility to enhance the capabilities of our industry with regard to research, diagnostics and treatment for all foreign animal diseases."

5m Editor