Tester: Report confirms fears on moving livestock lab

Havre Daily News

by Tim Leeds

Montana’s junior senator, Democrat Jon Tester, cited a study released Monday as showing more research and planning is needed before the Department of Homeland Security moves forward with moving an agricultural disease research laboratory to Kansas.

“This report tells us that there’s more homework to do and a long way to go before this facility is ready for prime time,” Tester said in a release Monday. “When it comes to being careful with our country’s agriculture industry and making good use of taxpayer dollars, DHS needs to do a better job of measuring twice and cutting once, not the other way around.”

The proposal is to move the research from the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center located nearly 2 miles off Long Island, N.Y, to a new National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan.

Saying he was concerned that the location, in the middle of U.S. cattle country, could lead to outbreaks of disease impacting the industry across the nation including in Montana, Tester added a requirement to the 2009 Homeland Security Appropriations Act requiring additional study before appropriations for the facility were approved.

That study, conducted by the National Research Council, found that the DHS studies had shortcomings, including insufficient data and experience to account for new and unknown risks.

“The Research Council report says the risks and costs of a pathogen being accidentally released from the facility could be significantly higher than indicated by the assessment,” the committee said in a release.

Ronald Atlas, chair of the committee that conducted the report, said in the press release that the DHS assessment of the project should be viewed as a starting point only.

“As more information emerges, an updated analysis could be appropriate,” said Atlas, a professor of biology and public health and co-director of the Center for Health Preparedness at the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

The report found a 70-percent chance of foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, pigs, deer and other cloven-hoofed animals, could cause an infection outside of the laboratory during its planned 50-year life. That would affect the economy by an estimated $9 billion to $50 billion, the release said.

One of the deficiencies of the DHS analysis is on the chance of an infection spreading, the Research Council’s report found. About 9.5 percent of the nation’s cattle inventory is within 200 miles of the proposed facility. Due to the highly contagious nature of foot-and-mouth disease, “rigorous and robust regional and national mitigation strategies that address an extensive outbreak of (the disease) are needed before the facility opens,” the committee said in the release.

Tester said he is glad another look was taken at the proposal. Without proper safety and emergency plans in place, the proposed facility would be a threat to Montana’s $1.5 billion-per-year livestock industry and to livestock and poultry industries throughout rural America, he added.