Archive for May 24, 2008

Leroy Watson, Legislative Director for the National Grange was kind enough to provide me with a copy of his unedited testimony for the at the May 22 hearing. Mr. Watson indicated that he had met with 3 investigators from the Government Accountability Office to answer questions pertaining to their investigation relating to the NBAF. 

Mr. Watson was the only witness who addressed the potential for terrorist acts against the facility. Moreover, part of his testimony focused on what effect the  “perceived risk” associated with a BSL-4 lab and foot and mouth disease (FMD) will have on the communities surrounding the National Bio Agro Defense Facility. 


Statement by Leroy Watson, Legislative Director

National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry
Before The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

U.S. house of representatives Committee on energy and commerce

For the hearing entitled

“Germs, Viruses and Secrets: Government Plans to Move Exotic Disease Research to the Mainland U.S.

Thursday May 22, 2008

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee:

My name is Leroy Watson.  I am the Legislative Director for the National Grange, the country’s oldest general farm and rural public interest organization.  Originally founded in 1867, today the National Grange represents nearly 200,000 individual Grange members affiliated with more than 3000 local, county and State Grange chapters across the United States.  More than 70% of our local Grange chapters are located in communities of 5000 people or fewer.

The Grange would like to commend the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for holding this timely hearing on proposals by the US government to relocate the Plumb Island Animal Disease Center to a location on the mainland United States as part of a new National Bio-and Agro Defense Facility.  We appreciate the opportunity to present our views strongly opposing the development of an animal disease research facility on the United States mainland that will work with live strains of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) viruses as well as other virulent foreign animal diseases (FADs) anywhere near existing concentrations of commercial livestock.  Our comments here today expand on the points we raised in a letter we sent to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer on April 14, 2008 on this issue. We believe that the economic risks of a potential outbreak of FMD to family farmers and ranchers across the nation with commercial livestock operations will far out weight the advantages the government has put forth to justify their proposals to bring this critical and sensitive research back to the mainland and away from the isolated island research facility where it has been successfully conducted for more than 50 years.

While there are many possible scenarios for the outbreak of animal diseases that would pose a significant economic risk to family farmers and ranchers as well as to their surrounding rural communities and their natural environments, few come close to the nightmare of an outbreak of FMD in dramatically impacting many aspects of American life.  Containing a major outbreak would be a Herculean, if not impossible task. FMD is twenty times more infectious than small-pox.  It causes painful blisters on the tongues, hooves, and teats of cloven animals such as cattle, pigs, goats and deer, that can render them unable to walk, eat or drink.  While people and other wild animals, such as predators or carrion, do not often contract FMD, once in contact with the virus they can carry the virus in their lungs to transmit to other susceptible animals for up to 48 hours. The animal to animal airborne transmission range for a local outbreak of FMD would a 50 mile radius or an area of more than 7800 square miles.

There is no known cure for FMD once it has been contracted. Once the disease was loose on the mainland U.S., it could require mass slaughter and disposal of potentially tens of millions of individual carcasses of domestic and wild animals to control the outbreak. It would require the imposition of draconian human quarantine and decontamination measures that would disrupt general commercial activities, outdoor recreational activities like deer hunting or hiking as well as personal freedom of mobility both in and out of the agricultural sector.  It would undoubtedly disrupt the domestic and international sale of meat and meat products though out the nation for months or even years. A 2004 research paper published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture entitled  “Economic Impact of Foreign Animal Disease Outbreak Across the United States” calculated that the direct costs to the domestic livestock industry of an FMD outbreak would exceed $60 billion.  We believe the ancillary costs to general commerce, outdoor recreation and impacts on future investments in the livestock sector by family farmers and ranchers would exceed the conservative USDA estimate of $60 billion in direct costs by several fold.

Living with the risk of a potential FMD outbreak is something that family farmers and ranchers have had to reluctantly had to come to grips with over the past few years.  The United States has been blessed as free of active outbreaks of FMD for more than 80 years. However, the events of 9/11, the anthrax attack of 2001 and other threat assessments have highlighted America’s diversified and highly dispersed family farms and ranches as “soft” targets for any terrorist, foreign power or even organized crime organization that wanted to strike a blow against the nation’s heartland.  In 2006, the National Institute of Justice, the criminal justice policy research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, published a Research for Policy brief entitled “Agroterrorism- Why We’re Not Ready” that identified FMD as the greatest agroterrorist threat facing our nation.  For a number of years now National Grange policy resolutions, generated and adopted by our grassroots members and delegates on the local, state and national level have called on USDA, DHS and the law enforcement community to work cooperatively to address this threat and take proactive measures to prepare for this type of outbreak.  We actually strongly support and commend DHS, USDA and other federal agencies for taking pro-active steps to upgrade our nation’s frontline bio research capacity to combat future outbreaks of FMD and other FADs. Yet while family farmers and ranchers represented by the Grange are currently resigned to living with the threat of the deliberate introduction of FMD or other FADs into their communities by individuals who are inamicable to our national interests, they are puzzled as to why the introduction of these dangerous pathogens onto the mainland U.S. should be facilitated by Federal government policy, especially in light of the successful record of research and containment that the existing and geographically isolated Plumb Island facilities have demonstrated for more than 50 years. 

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The plan was to open in March, then May now July isn’t looking  promising. Recent reports are problematic, the hospital is not attracting qualified staff.

State mental health administrators are accelerating plans to open a psychiatric hospital in Butner despite internal projections showing severe shortages of qualified staff.

 With patients due to arrive at Central Regional Hospital in about three weeks, 63 nursing positions have yet to be filled — a vacancy rate of 21 percent.

There is a 36 percent vacancy rate for medical doctors and a 38 percent of positions for psychologists are empty. The vacancy rate for psychiatrists is more than 14 percent.

With so many key positions vacant, many rank-and-file employees fear a situation that won’t be safe for staff or patients.

Moreover, 16 safety concerns were recently noted during an inspection by administrators on May 13. Some of the issues involved;

hundreds of door handles and bathroom handrails that suicidal patients could use to anchor nooses made from bedsheets or clothing.

Required evacuation and fire plans have yet to be developed, and a state safety inspector noted design flaws that could allow patients to enter unsecured areas or escape to the woods.

A second internal checklist of problems notes that lights in a medical unit used to call a nurse were installed above the ceiling where they cannot be seen. Some of the hospital’s signature floor-to-ceiling windows have glass that is not shatter-proof.

The hospital was moving forward with plans to start moving patients on June 13 with the target opening on July 1. Some Dix employees want to delay the hospital opening by 1 year. With gas prices approaching $4.00 a gallon I don’t blame them I wouldn’t want to make the commute from Raleigh to Butner either.

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