Animal diseases can wreak havoc on our livestock, threaten our food supply, impact our economy and even threaten citizens’ lives, but one facility and its experts will soon help the country better prepare.
On May 27, AVMA Executive Vice President and CEO Dr. Ron DeHaven joined federal and state officials for the groundbreaking ceremony of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). The new $1.2 billion facility, which is being constructed at Kansas State University and will replace the laboratory on Plum Island off of Long Island, N.Y., will research and develop countermeasures to combat high-consequence biological threats involving human, zoonotic and foreign animal diseases.
The current Plum Island facility is tasked with defending the agriculture and food system against terrorist attacks, major disasters and other emergencies, according to the Department of Homeland Security, but “it is worn out and out of date,” DeHaven said.
“Plum Island has served us well for decades, but the facility has far exceeded its expected useful lifespan and does not have the level of biosecurity necessary to ensure adequate containment of pathogens maintained within the facility,” he said. “In addition, the bio-secure space at Plum Island is very limited, thus restricting the amount of research and development that can take place at any given time. This is limiting the critically important research that could, and should, otherwise be done.”
According to the DHS, the NBAF will have advanced research capabilities and be the first such facility to have large animal biosafety level 4 containment for the study of high-consequence diseases impacting large livestock. NBAF researchers will study a variety of zoonotic diseases including: foot and mouth disease, Rift Valley fever, Nipah virus, Hendra virus, and two swine fevers.
“NBAF is about ensuring the security of our food supply through rapid diagnosis of foreign animal diseases; research to give us better tools to prevent, contain and eliminate such disease outbreaks; and developing countermeasures if there were to be an intentional introduction of a foreign animal disease,” DeHaven said. “Some of those diseases are zoonotic, so we need an exceptionally secure facility where these disease agents can be contained for the protection of both human and animal populations. While the NBAF is an expensive facility, it is a small price to pay in consideration of the livestock industries it will protect.”
Veterinarians will be key to the operation of the NBAF, just as they have been for decades at Plum Island. They will oversee the disease diagnostic work, animal disease control and prevention research, and ensure the proper care of the animals housed at the facility.
In addition to employing employees from DHS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, between 250 and 350 civilian employees are expected to work at the facility. Construction is slated for completion in 2020 and the facility should be fully operational by 2023.