Archive for May 22, 2008

Plum Island Satellite Image

Click to enlarge

Plum Island satellite image

Farm groups clash over moving foot-and-mouth research

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of the nation’s oldest farm groups said Thursday a proposed foot-and-mouth disease research laboratory on the U.S. mainland, near livestock, could be an inviting target for terrorists. Commercial livestock representatives and the Bush administration insisted it would be safe to move an island lab to sites near animals.

Testimony at a House hearing showed deep divisions between farmers and ranchers over where to conduct research on the most infectious animal-only disease in the world.

Such work now is confined to the 840-acres Plum Island, N.Y., off the northeastern tip of Long Island. The administration has spent time and money to announce five finalist sites on the mainland for a new lab. A new facility on Plum Island to replace the current, outmoded lab remains a possibility.

All sides agreed that the wrong decision would bring an economic catastrophe if a new lab failed to contain the virus within the facility. An epidemic could ruin farmers and ranchers as well as related industries in feed, transportation, exports and retail.

Leroy Watson, legislative director of the National Grange, which was founded in 1867, raised the terrorism danger in testimony opposing moving the lab to the mainland.

The location of a new laboratory near livestock “would provide an inviting vicinity for the release of FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) by terrorist or criminal elements that would be looking to maximize not only the economic damage … but also the social and political confusion and fallout,” Watson said.

Domestic groups opposed to animal research also could target a new lab, he said.

Foot-and-mouth disease has been classified as a national security issue at least since 2003, when the Homeland Security Department took control of the island from the Agriculture Department, which had run it since the mid-1950s.

Gary Voogt, president-elect of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said his group did not oppose the move.

“Plum Island is not the fortress some people may contend,” he said. “The island has long had a problem with wildlife swimming over from the mainland at low tide, and there have been numerous reports of how close boaters can get to the island without any warning or consequences.”

Like other witnesses who support a move, he said modern virus containment methods would make a new lab secure.

Jay Cohen, a homeland undersecretary, said, “I have every reason to believe that the assessments will show that, from a biosecurity and public safety perspective, siting the (new laboratory) on the U.S. mainland is a viable alternative.”

Rep. John Dingell, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, accused Cohen of withholding documents from the committee.

“It sounds rather arrogant to me,” said Dingell, D-Mich.

Cohen responded, “It sounds arrogant to me” that congressional investigators failed to “show me the courtesy to contact me” about the documents.

Dingell: “I will see to it we will lay subpoenas on you.”

Cohen: “I have nothing to hide here.”

The committee wants documents assessing the risk and benefits of locating a new lab on the mainland near animals, and the potential environment impact on each proposed location. Cohen said he would provide all the documents he has, but that a draft environmental statement would not be finished until mid-June.

While the disease does not sicken humans, an outbreak on the U.S. mainland — avoided since 1929 — could lead to slaughter of millions of animals, a halt in U.S. livestock movements, a ban on exports and severe losses in the production of meat and milk.

To avoid an epidemic, foot-and-mouth research has been confined since 1955 to Plum Island. The facility will be replaced by a National Bio-and-Agro-Defense Facility that also will study diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans.

The finalist sites are Flora, Miss.; Athens, Ga.; Manhattan, Kan.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio. One Homeland Security study found the numbers of livestock in the counties and surrounding areas of the finalists ranged from 542,507 in Kansas to 132,900 in Georgia.


If you are looking for information concerning the latest GAO report 7/27/09 go here. This report marks the second time the GAO has found the NBAF is unsafe, despite DHS’s continuing efforts to build it in Kansas. The report below is from 07 and it also says the NBAF is unsafe.

Plum Island

Source: United States Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Testimony, Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives


High Containment Bio-Safety Laboratories

DHS Lacks Evidence to Conclude That Foot-and-Mouth Disease Research Can Be Done Safely on the U.S. Mainland

What GAO Found 

GAO found that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has neither conducted nor commissioned any study to determine whether work on foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) can be done safely on the U.S. mainland. Instead, in deciding that work with FMD can be done safely on the mainland, DHS relied on a 2002 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study that addressed a different question. The study did not assess the past history of releases of FMD virus or other dangerous pathogens in the United States or elsewhere. It did not address in detail the issues of containment related to large animal work in BSL-3 Ag facilities. It was inaccurate in comparing other countries’ FMD work experience with that of the United States. Therefore, GAO believes DHS does not have evidence to conclude that FMD work can be done safely on the U.S. mainland.

While location, in general, confers no advantage in preventing a release, location can help prevent the spread of pathogens and, thus, a resulting disease outbreak if there is a release. Given that there is always some risk of a release from any biocontainment facility, most experts GAO spoke with said that an island location can provide additional protection. An island location can help prevent the spread of FMD virus along terrestrial routes, such as from vehicles splashed with contaminated mud, and may also reduce airborne transmission. Some other countries besides the United States have historically seen the benefit of an island location, with its remoteness from susceptible species and permanent water barriers. A recent release from the Pirbright facility—located in a farming community on the mainland of the United Kingdom—highlights the risks of a release from a laboratory that is in close proximity to the susceptible animals and provides the best evidence in favor of an island location.

FMD has no health implications for humans, but it can have significant economic consequences, as recent outbreaks in the United Kingdom have demonstrated. The economic effects of an FMD outbreak in the United States, however, would depend on the characteristics of the outbreak and how producers, consumers, and the government responded to it. Although estimates vary, experts agree that the economic consequences of an FMD outbreak on the U.S. mainland could be significant, especially for red meat producers whose animals would be at risk for diseases, depending on how and where such an outbreak occurred.

Why GAO Did This Study

DHS is proposing to move foot-and mouth disease (FMD) research from its current location at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center—located on a federally owned island off the northern tip of Long Island, New York—and potentially onto the United States mainland.

FMD is the most highly infectious animal disease that is known. Nearly 100 percent of exposed animals become infected. A single outbreak of FMD on the U.S. mainland could have significant economic consequences. Concerns have been raised about moving FMD research off its island location and onto the U.S. mainland—where it would be in closer proximity to susceptible animal populations—as opposed to building a new facility on the island.

GAO was asked to evaluate the evidence DHS used to support its decision that FMD work can be done safely on the U.S. mainland, whether an island location provides any additional protection over and above that provided by modern high containment laboratories on the mainland, and the economic consequences of an FMD outbreak on the U.S. mainland.

In preparing this testimony, GAO interviewed officials from DHS and USDA, talked with experts in FMD and high-containment laboratories worldwide, and reviewed studies on FMD, high-containment laboratories, and the economic consequences of FMD outbreaks. GAO also visited the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and other animal biocontainment laboratories in other countries.

 Entire report here.

Why you cannot compare the National Bio Agro Defense Facility with the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

The NCC NBAF consortium recently ran a full page ad in the Butner-Creedmoor News stating that “citizens deserve accurate information on the NBAF”. I agree, citizens do deserve accurate information, moreover, citizens deserve complete and factual information that give them the ability to make an informed decision. However, material manipulated by public relation firms and media groups while accurate in context is not very forthcoming in content.

For instance, despite regional variances such as demographics, area specific statistical data, economics,  workforce, income, housing, facility location, consumer expenditures, taxes, etc., each state reports the same financial benefit to the surrounding communites if the facility is sited in the respective state. Additionally, every single state is claiming the same economic impact over the subsequent 20 years after the facility is operational. Just dumb luck? I don’t think so. Public perception appears to be the target of the consortia concerns thus the rationale behind their informational campaign (or in my opinion, the lack there of).

Consortia sanitized talking points do not address:

  • According to statements made by DHS, the NBAF will house approximately 100 large animals, ie., cattle, hogs.
  • BioSafety Level Four (BSL-4) is required for research with select agents. “These are dangerous and exotic zoonotic agents that ” pose high individual risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease, which may be transmitted via the aerosol route, and for which there is no available vaccine, or treatment”. 18 of those select agents are deadly to humans that is “with no known cure or vaccine”.
  • From the USDA & the CDC, BSL-3Ag facilities are specifically designed to protect the environment by including almost all of the features ordinarily used for BSL-4 facilities as enhancements. Pathogens are studied both invitro and in vivo. All BSL-3Ag containment spaces must be designed, constructed and certified as primary containment barriers, capable of housing and maintaining large animals, the CDC specimens are housed in small individual containers suitable for mice or rats.
  • Two viruses have been discovered that are lethal for agricultural species and for humans (Nipah and Hendra viruses) for which there are no vaccines. Both of these viruses will be studied at the NBAF and yet we are being told, diseases of study at the NBAF do not pose a public health threat.
  • ABSL-4 categorization – These biosafety level is recommended by the American Biological Safety Association. These “enhancements are provided specifically to protect the environment, and include but not limited to HEPA filtration of supply and exhaust air, decontamination of liquid effluent, decontamination of solid wastes, including carcass disposal, personnel exit showers, and facility integrity testing (pressure decay test). All requirements are to protect the external environment. U.S. CDC/NIH publication entitled “Bio safety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” states, “Risk management strategies for work involving agriculture pathogens must focus on bio containment and environmental protection in addition to worker protection, since the primary concern is the potential economic impact of the morbidity and mortality on agricultural species, and the international trade implications of a disease outbreak”.
  • The pathogens with which the NBAF researchers will work have the highest economic consequence to the animal health status in the country.
  • Foot and mouth disease is unlike any pathogen currently worked with at the CDC. The virus can be carried in a person’s lungs, nostrils or other body parts, making the lab worker the vehicle for virus transmission thus exposing others they come in contact with specifically animals. 
  • DHS refused to provide necessary documents to the Government Accountability Office investigating the potential risk associated with the NBAF stating the reason for the refusal the information was “propriety” according to the opening statement of the  Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell.
  • This is not an open process as the state consortium has stated, as evidenced by the recent testimony give at Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing; Germs, Viruses, and Secrets:  Government Plans to Move Exotic Disease Research to the Mainland United States. DHS did not cooperate with the investigator’s or the subcommittee.
  • The GAO testified, risk assessments for the NBAF have not been performed yet we are being told the DEIS will address said assessments.
  • The cost of the facility is now estimated to be upwards of $600 – $ 750 million according to the GAO investigation and yet NC citizens (I can’t speak for the other sites) have not been informed of these increases as well as other  most recent issues related to the NBAF.

Bio-containment is classified by the “relative” danger to the surrounding environment. Currently only BSL-3 Ag facilities are in operation and there is no official nomenclature for a BSL-4 ag facility but by definition the NBAF will fit the criteria making the facility far more dangerous on a much broader scale. When you add the issue of foot and mouth disease the potential risk the lab represents morphs into a ticking time-bomb.

I also would like to point out what in my opinion is the most grossly understated talking point which is the comparison being made that the NBAF is similar to the Centers for Disease Control.  The NBAF will be the first BSL-4, Large animal agricultural research facility of its kind in the world as well as the largest BSL-4 lab in the world. The only similarity between the NBAF and the CDC is that they are both biolabs that engage in BSL-4 research.

Another notible difference between a traditional BioSafety lab and a BioSafety agricultural facility the consortia fail to mention is the size of the specimen and the amount of waste produced. Visualize for one moment a mouse and then a cow, because that is the difference between the animals of study at the CDC and the animals of study at the NBAF. Waste disposal at the CDC consist of small animals inside containers and the waste they produce, small carcasses and bedding.

Waste disposal at the NBAF will consist of waste from large animals weighing 1,300 to 1,900 lb each; generating 75 to 100 lbs of pathogenic contaminated feces per animal per day, excluding carcasses, using DHS’s numbers, that is 7500 LBS. to 10,000 LBS. of pathogenic contaminated waste per day for disposal either by incineration, landfill and wastewater treatment.

This facility will be a  huge environmental polluter and a financial burden to Granville County or any other state where sited, but will pay no county, state or federal taxes. The infrastructure and associated costs for this facility will be paid by the taxpayers, just ask Jimmy Crawford who is considering legislation for 25 million in NC. How and why will this facility protect agriculture or our food supply better than current operating facilities? Is that the concern really?

Recently, the Bush Administration (USDA) filed an appeal to stop meatpackers from testing all their animals for Mad Cow Disease. Their reason for the appeal “The agency argues that more widespread testing does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers”. Isn’t that what they are doing with the fear-mongering reasoning for the NBAF? The administration doesn’t support more testing of our current  food supply to make sure it is safe, NOW. But they support more research into pathogens we already know exist that MAY endanger us or our food supply.

Pandemics are real, avian flu and SARS are current threats. We do not need to fabricate bioterrorism for more taxpayer funded incompetence or provide grant money to do the government’s bioweapons research. Witnesses who testified at today’s hearing reaffirm the risk this lab poses  and how flawed DHS’s process  concerning the NBAF has been. Why are facts being withheld and manipulated from the communities affected by the proposed NBAF?  Demand answers!


Foot-and-mouth plan used flawed study


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Bush administration relied on a flawed study to conclude that research on a highly infectious animal disease could safely be moved from an isolated island laboratory to sites on the mainland near livestock, congressional investigators concluded in findings obtained by The Associated Press.

The Homeland Security Department “does not have evidence” that foot-and-mouth disease research can be conducted on the U.S. mainland without significant risk of an animal epidemic, Congress’ Government Accountability Office said.

Officials from the GAO and the Homeland Security Department were expected to square off Thursday at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing. The administration isn’t backing down on its view that modern laboratories have the highest security to prevent an escape of the virus.

The one certainty in the debate that has divided the commercial livestock industry: making the wrong choice could bring on an economic catastrophe.

While the disease does not sicken humans, an outbreak on the U.S. mainland — avoided since 1929 — could lead to slaughter of millions of animals, a halt in U.S. livestock movements, a ban on exports and severe losses in the production of meat and milk.

To avoid an epidemic, foot-and-mouth research has been confined since 1955 to the 840-acre Plum Island, N.Y., off the northeastern tip of Long Island. The facility there is outmoded and will be replaced by a National Bio-and-Agro-Defense Facility that also will study diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans.

There are five finalist mainland sites: Athens, Ga.; Flora, Miss.; Manhattan, Kan.; Butner, N.C.; and San Antonio. One Homeland Security study found the numbers of livestock in the counties and surrounding areas of the finalists ranged from 542,507 in Kansas to 132,900 in Georgia.

Plum Island also is a finalist, although Homeland Security officials are spending considerable time and money holding forums at the mainland locations to convince residents the new lab would be safe.

“We found that DHS has not conducted or commissioned any study to determine whether FMD (foot-and-mouth disease) work can be done safely on the U.S. mainland,” according to testimony prepared for the committee by Nancy Kingsbury, the GAO’s managing director for applied research and methods.

Jay Cohen, an undersecretary of Homeland Security, said in his prepared testimony: “While there is always a risk of human error … the redundancies built into modern research laboratory designs and the latest biosecurity and containment systems … effectively minimizes these risks.”

Department spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said risk assessments are being conducted at each proposed site to evaluate impacts of hypothetical foot-and-mouth disease releases. The public will be asked to comment on the findings.

The administration based its decision of safe mainland research on a 2002 Agriculture Department study on whether it was technically feasible to do the work onshore.

Kingsbury said there’s a major distinction between what is technically feasible and “what is possible, given the potential for human error.”

“We found that the study was selective in what it considered,” she said. “It did not assess the history of releases of FMD virus or other dangerous pathogens, either in the United States or elsewhere.”

It also did not address the dangers of working with infected large animals; the virus can be carried in a person’s lungs, nostrils or other body parts, making him or her a possible vehicle for a virus escape. The study also did not consider the history of accidents in laboratories, the GAO said.

The AP reported in April that a 1978 release of the virus into cattle holding pens on Plum Island triggered new safety procedures. While that incident was previously known, Homeland Security officials acknowledged there were other accidents at Plum Island.

The GAO report listed six other accidents between 1971 and 2004.

“These incidents involved human error, lack of proper maintenance, equipment failure and deviation from standard operating procedures,” the GAO said. “Many were not a function of the age of the facility or the lack of technology and could happen in any facility today.”

The investigators found that the United States only avoided international restrictions after the 1978 outbreak because it was confined to the island.

The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing: Germs, Viruses, and Secrets:  Government Plans to Move Exotic Disease  Research to the Mainland United States is scheduled for May 22 at 10:00AM. To view the hearing online go here.

The hearing will examine the following issues;

  • 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?

 Witness List

%d bloggers like this: