Today, I had the pleasure of speaking with Leroy Watson, Legislative Director for the National Grange. If you are unfamliar with the National Grange they have worked tirelessly over the years to give rural America a voice  while  protecting traditional values and interests of small communities across the country. Here is a excerpt from their about page.

“The National Grange is the nation’s oldest national agricultural organization, with grassroots units established in 3,600 local communities in 37 states.  Its 300,000 members provide service to agriculture and rural areas on a wide variety of issues, including economic development, education, family endeavors, and legislation designed to assure a strong and viable Rural America. It was formed in the years following the American Civil War to unite private citizens in improving the economic and social position of the nation’s farm population.   Over the past 137 years, it has evolved to include non-farm rural families and communities”.

The topic of our conversation was a recent press release from his organization, opposing the National Bio Agro Defense Facility. While speaking with Mr Watson I communicated my concern for Butner and North Carolina. He indicated he understood the communities concern because of the fact that “the deadly pathogens the facility (NBAF) would study, could affect every farm within a 75 mile radius”. The details of the press release are as follows:

 

National Grange Opposes Mainland Research Facility

For Immediate Release April 17, 2008

(Washington, DC) – In a strongly worded letter to Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer, the National Grange, the nation’s oldest general farm and rural public interest organization representing family farmers and rural citizens, expressed its opposition to the development of a Foot-and-Mouth Disease research facility on the United States Mainland.  Currently this disease research is accomplished on an isolated island laboratory in New York’s Long Island Sound, far away from U. S. livestock, and thus minimizing the risk for a catastrophic outbreak, which would devastate our domestic livestock industry. The research accomplished includes vaccine and drug development, testing of imported animals, and professional training.

The Bush administration is proposing additional highly sensitive research at a new National Bio Defense Facility on the U. S. mainland near hundreds of thousands of livestock.  Proposed sites for the new laboratory include the states of Kansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi. 
The National Grange strongly believes any outbreak containment would be more successful at the existing isolated facility than at a proposed mainland site.  The Foot-and-Mouth virus, which does not affect humans, is nonetheless, highly contagious and can be carried by breath, clothes, and vehicles. 

Ed Luttrell, National Grange President stated, “Bio-security will always be an issue on the mainland so placing a new research facility on the continental United States greatly increases the risk of a catastrophic outbreak.  Consequently the National Grange recommends renovating the existing facility to obtain the security necessary to perform higher-level research such as viral transfer from animals to humans rather than building a new facility on the continental U. S.” 

Proponents of a new mainland facility say modern safety rules at labs are sufficient to avoid any potential outbreak. But incidents in Britain have demonstrated that the foot-and-mouth virus can cause remarkable economic havoc, and that the virus can escape from a facility.  An epidemic in 2001
devastated Britain’s livestock industry, as the government slaughtered 6 million sheep, cows and pigs. Last year, in a less serious outbreak, Britain’s health and safety agency concluded the virus probably escaped from a site shared by a government research center and a vaccine maker. Other outbreaks have occurred in Taiwan in 1997 and China last year and in 2006.  The United States has not had an outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease since the 1920s.

 

Thank goodness there are organizations such as the National Grange, willing to voice their opposition to the NBAF. Clearly there is more to the debate and yet public opinion is being ignored.  Shareholders vying to bring the NBAF to North Carolina would have us believe the agricultural community supports such a facility but as indicated by the National Grange not everyone is blinded by the lure of research dollars, some organizations protect rural communites while others sell them out to the highest bidder.

To read the actual press release go here.  

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