A subcommittee of the government-backed National Research Council released a report July 13 furthering progress toward the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to be built on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan. The committee provided the Department of Homeland Security two viable options for moving forward with the large-animal biocontainment laboratory, which the report deemed “imperative” to protect animal and public health.
The report concluded that the NBAF as it is currently designed--a Biosafety Level 4 facility--is the "ideal laboratory infrastructure in a single location." The committee believes the design meets the current and anticipated needs of the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. But the proposed facility includes substantial costs in regard to construction, operation and management.
A second option would create a downsized laboratory that would operate in partnership with "a distributed laboratory network." The report said this option could potentially be more efficient and more cost-effective than the initial plan, although the savings are yet unknown.
The committee rejected a third option to maintain the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York while outsourcing Biosafety Level 4 needs to foreign laboratories. "Given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency, it would not be desirable for the United States to rely on international laboratories to meet these needs in the long term," the report states.
Kansas State University President Kirk Schulz and Ron Trewyn, Kansas State vice president for research, were pleased with the committee’s report.
"It is a vote of confidence for NBAF in its currently planned form, and shows confidence in Kansas and the capabilities of United States researchers to effectively address emerging animal diseases that threaten the nation," Schulz says. "We anticipate Kansas State playing an even more crucial role in that future security through our various animal and plant research initiatives. Moreover, we remain confident in our elected officials and agency planners as they work together to complete NBAF."
In its report the committee says the scope of its analysis was limited to examining the three options and explicitly excluded a risk assessment of specific site locations for the proposed laboratory facility. The report "neither compares relative risks of the three options nor determines where foot-and-mouth disease research can be safely conducted." The committee concludes that the concerns and risks associated with the creation of a Biosafety Level 4 facility "will need to be considered in a more comprehensive assessment."
The organization No NBAF in Kansas continues to oppose the facility. The group of "concerned citizens" states on its website that it believes the "facility would be too dangerous to have anywhere on the U.S. mainland, but especially in Manhattan (Kan.)."