A much anticipated (long over due) hearing in scheduled to examine issues, that have not yet officially been addressed concerning the  National Bio Agro Defense Facility and its intended research purposes; to relocate (FMD) Foot and Mouth Disease on to the U.S. mainland.  The hearing entitled; Germs, Viruses, and Secrets:  Government Plans to Move Exotic Disease Research to the Mainland United States is scheduled for 10:00AM on May 22nd and can be viewed online here.

The recent push for passage of the Farm Bill has caused many to question safety issues surrounding the NBAF. Some opponents argue many within the consortia and politicians trying to lure the NBAF to their respective states have chosen to ignore safety concerns and have not truthfully addressed the risk and cost of the facility within the affected communities.

According to a recent AP article by Larry Margasak, the Senate’s version of the bill could have serious future consequences and seemly ties the hands of the next administration powers over the regulation and control of the FMD disease.  

The House version of the same legislation would leave in place the agriculture secretary’s discretion.

The Senate proposal was jointly requested by the departments of Agriculture and Homeland Security, said Erin Hamm, spokeswoman for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The Senate plan would prevent the agriculture secretary under the next presidential administration from easily interfering with the lab’s relocation to the mainland.

In a  recent letter  to the Committee on Agriculture,  the Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations raised the following issues for examination as part of the hearing. 

  • Has DHS given adequate consideration to the hazards of shutting down Plum Island and transferring foot and mouth disease to the mainland?
  • Can foot and mouth disease and other exotic animal diseases research be carried out safety in bio-containment facilities on the mainland?
  • What are the views of the livestock industry about the plan to transfer foot and mouth disease research to the mainland?
  • Have the direst and indirect costs of shutting down Plum Island and building the NBAF on the U.S. mainland been fully considered?
  • Is there an agricultural need for a BSL-4 Lab at the NBAF?
  • Is the NBAF site-selection process being conducted fairly?
  • Does DHS have adequate experience and expertise to lead Federal research on dangerous animal diseases, or should that responsibility more properly reside with the USDA?

Without a doubt this hearing is welcomed by the opponents of the NBAF and critics of the rapid  proliferation of BSL- 3/BSL- 4  bio-containment facilities brought forth from the Bush Administration’s knee jerk reactions following  Sept. 11. Hopefully, the Dual Use research issue should be examined next.

You can read additional letters from the committee concerning  Biosafety Level (BSL) III & IV Laboratories here.