- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Plum Island Animal Disease Center, an important but antiquated facility off Long Island, N.Y., where our government has studied animal diseases since the 1950s, is getting a new home in Kansas. Replacing the center is the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a state-of-the-art lab that is urgently needed to accelerate the development of vaccines and treatments to protect the American food supply and agriculture economy.

Unfortunately, the threat of foreign animal diseases such as African swine fever and Rift Valley Fever is very real, whether introduced into our country naturally, accidentally or deliberately. These diseases cause devastation to countries and people around the globe. Our nation’s existing research facility is very limited in its ability to respond to such threats, so Congress is working with President Obama, as it did for several years with former President George W. Bush, to modernize infectious disease research facilities and keep our citizens secure.

Over the course of the rigorous, three-year site selection process for the NBAF, civil servants and independent experts in the Departments of Homeland Security and Agriculture reviewed nearly 30 potential locations all across the country. After thorough risk, environmental and security assessments were completed, Manhattan, Kan., was unanimously selected as the best place on the merits to carry out the NBAF’s essential research mission.

The location is ideal because it is situated in America’s Animal Health Corridor, which hosts the largest concentration of animal health companies and assets in the world - integral to providing expertise and collaborative opportunities that will make NBAF research successful. It is also home to Kansas State University’s internationally recognized biomedical and agricultural research programs, a major biosecurity research laboratory, and the National Agricultural Biosecurity Center. NBAF research will clearly be enhanced by Kansas’ business concentration, expertise, infrastructure and inherent interest in protecting agricultural livelihoods.

Yet just as our country is poised to move forward with the NBAF’s critical scientific work, there are those who would threaten America’s food supply and economic security with political games and legal maneuvers. With a project this crucial, we should not allow misinformation or sour-grapes tactics to delay the real and important progress we have achieved toward the goal of accelerating and modernizing our nation’s animal disease research efforts.

The thoughtful, multiyear NBAF process has put safety and research efficacy at the forefront throughout. It has reinforced that the threat is not in modern research, but in a lack of research - or research that does not bring the best resources and infrastructure to bear on the challenge at hand.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has safely performed research on dangerous human diseases such as Ebola for decades, NBAF will become a world-class research center for animal diseases, performing an invaluable national service of which we can all be proud.

Congress is expected to soon send to the president a Homeland Security spending bill for him to sign that includes $32 million to complete the design and begin the construction of NBAF. This funding, which includes support for additional studies to make sure NBAF operates safely, should allow this modern laboratory to move ahead.

From a rancher feeding his cattle this morning in Washington, Kan., to a family sitting down for supper tonight in the District, Americans must have confidence that we are adequately prepared to combat outbreaks of dangerous foreign animal diseases. Moving forward with the NBAF now is the way to ensure that confidence because it will significantly increase our capacity to combat threats in a proactive and effective way, protecting our food supply, agriculture economy and public health in the 21st century.

Rep. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican, is a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee.

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