One Step Forward, Two Steps Back For K-State Animal Lab? | KCUR

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back For K-State Animal Lab?

Jul 13, 2012

The National Academies of Science issued a set of 10 conclusions today on the future of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas.

The report says while there is a critical need for a so-called BSL4 lab that will research the most dangerous emerging diseases to affect particularly livestock, it said the current NBAF proposal might be too big and too costly.

In a teleconference with reporters this afternoon, committee chairman  Terry McElwain with the  University of Washington said the report, commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), found it was "possible to scale back NBAF as currently proposed.”

McElwain said the committee found a proliferation of biosecurity labs over the last 10 years around the country. It would be inefficient, he said, not to utilize the intellectual and capital investments in those labs.

The committee was charged with looking at 3 options: building the NBAF in Kansas as planned; building what it calls “NBAF-lite” – a smaller version of the proposed lab; or scrapping the proposal, making improvements to the Plum Island Animal Disease Lab, and partnering with foreign labs.  Plum Island, off the coast of Long Island, currently is the only place in the United States where Foot and Mouth Disease, and other incurable large animal diseases are studied.

In brief, the committee said moving forward with NBAF as planned would meet the current or future needs of animal research but has what the report calls “drawbacks.”  Among them: the critical question of cost.  The cost of the lab has escalated to $1.1 billion. DHS initially asked for the study because of cost concerns, and Congress has withheld construction funding until such concerns have been addressed.

The committee found upgrading Plum Island impractical.  It said  the half-century old facility was inefficient  and even with investments could not be brought up to bio safety standards. 

It is not practical to work with foreign labs, the committee found,  “given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency..."

Vice President of Research for K-State, Ron Trewyn, acknowledged the project could be significantly scaled back.  But the committee said the country definitely needs a new high level biosecurity  , or so-called BSL4 ag lab . He said university officials are pleased.

Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran issued a statement in conjunction with Governor Sam Brownback urging the White Houseto release federal funds to begin construction on the lab. 

Congress has allocated $165 million for the NBAF project.

Ground has been broken for the lab, but construction is stalled until  federal funding is  released.

For more NBAF coverage, visit KCUR's Tracking NBAF page.