Commentary: Agro-Defense Facility would help protect against animal disease
By BOB L. LARSON
Kansas State University, Manhattan and the state of Kansas have a tremendous opportunity to provide essential protection to the livestock industries that are so important to Kansas and the United States through the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility proposal.
The facility will provide a state-of-the-art location to do the research necessary to enhance our region’s and the nation’s protection from diseases that could cause tremendous animal suffering and death loss, and extreme financial disruption that would ripple throughout the nation’s economy.
Because of a combination of developing factors, such as increased world travel and trade, as well as the threat of terrorism aimed at agriculture, the risk of accidental or intentional introduction of animal disease to the U.S. is very real. An updated research facility located in the area of the country with the greatest livestock production expertise is needed to counteract that risk.
When the research center on Plum Island was first constructed following World War II to conduct research on important animal diseases that were not present in the U.S., it was placed on an island off the east coast of Long Island in an attempt to decrease the risk of accidental transmission of disease agents from the research facility to animal populations.
While this precaution was realistic before the development of modern containment technology, the location far from important animal agriculture states caused problems related to the geographic distance between the laboratory and researchers and the industries it was developed to protect.
Livestock industries and the public are not best served when important foreign animal disease research is carried out on a figurative or literal island; but rather when that research is carried out in an atmosphere of interdisciplinary interaction with veterinary medical researchers and epidemiologists, agricultural economists, animal scientists, animal health companies and livestock producers.
K-State has had a historic and continuing commitment to combat animal disease and to protect the nation’s animal populations and food supply. The opening of the Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall on the K-State campus is a recent testament to that commitment. It is the only biosafety level-3 containment research and training facility in the U.S. that can accommodate research on high-consequence pathogens important to livestock, food crops and food processing under one roof.
In addition to the expertise at K-State, the Animal Health Corridor that extends from Manhattan, Kan., through the Kansas City metropolitan area and St. Joseph to the University of Missouri at Columbia provides a concentration of knowledge and expertise in animal health maintenance and disease prevention that is unique in the world. Locating the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility within the Animal Health Corridor leverages the infrastructure that is already in place and will enhance the communication necessary to develop solutions that meet the needs of animal owners and the public.
Having livestock producers, university faculty scientists, animal health companies and agro-defense scientists in geographic proximity will promote improved communication to solve complex issues involved with preventing foreign animal disease outbreaks and will be essential in the event of an actual accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal diseases to the U.S.
By combining the strength of Kansas and Midwestern livestock producers, faculty scientists and administration at K-State and the expertise in the Animal Health Corridor with the enhanced capability of the proposed agro-defense facility, livestock producers and citizens will benefit from significantly improved protection from the threat of accidental or intentional introduction of foreign animal disease to U.S. soil.
Bob L. Larson is a professor of clinical sciences and the Coleman chair in food animal production medicine at Kansas State University.