Tester blasts funds for research lab

The Associated Press

by Suzanne Gamboa

WASHINGTON — The Senate approved $32 million Tuesday for a planned foot-and-mouth dis¬ease research lab in Kansas, while ordering more studies on the lab’s safety.

The money and required safety studies are part the $44.1 billion Homeland Security spending bill the Senate passed on a 79-19 vote. The bill heads next to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

The money for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is a victory for Kansas officials and lab backers who fought the House plan to withhold money.

But before the Department of Homeland Security can spend any money to build the lab, it must study whether it can safely run the lab in Kansas.

The National Academy of Sciences gets up to $2 million of the money to then evaluate the study.

“I do not understand why we’re going to appropriate $30 million for a project that we need not one, but two studies, about whether this project can move forward safely,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D¬Mont.,


who sponsored an amend¬ment in the Senate bill requiring the additional study.

The Homeland Secu¬rity Department has been eager to move for¬ward with its plans for the 520,000-square-foot lab to replace the aging lab on Plum Island, N.Y. Research on foot-and-mouth disease, which is highly contagious, has been confined to the island since the disease was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929.

Tester said experts are con¬cerned about building the lab in the “Beef Belt” — which includes his home state and its $1.5 billion livestock industry — “where an accidental release could have dis-astrous consequences for Ameri¬ca’s livestock industry.”

“We should not start doing this research on the U.S. mainland and in the middle of tornado alley without taking every possible precaution,” Tester said.

Kansas lawmakers and Home¬land Security officials have said the lab will be equipped with modern safety systems.

Homeland Security also must create an emergency response plan for the lab and work with the Agriculture Department on a per¬mit process for the foot-and¬mouth research study.

“I believe there is no better place than in Kansas to do this research,” Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said on the Senate floor before the vote.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the funding is a significant invest¬ment in the lab to be built in Man¬hattan, Kan. Research also will be done at the lab on other deadly diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Critics questioned the wisdom of providing the money if safety studies still need to be done.

In July, the Government Accountability Office criticized an earlier Department of Home¬land Security’s safety study for the Kansas site, but the agency disputed the GAO report.

Brownback said animals and pathogens will be contained in “a metal structure, on top of a con-crete structure, on top of another concrete structure.”

Michigan Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Oversight and Investiga¬tions subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee, and John Dingell, have led opposition to transferring the research to the U.S. mainland.

The Homeland Security Appropriations bill is H2892.