A polite crowd of about 200 people filled a University of Georgia auditorium Thursday to register support and opposition to a proposed animal research facility under consideration at UGA and sites in five other states.
The Department of Homeland Security will select the site of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility later this year after studying each one and digesting public comments made at public forums such as the one in Athens.
Steve Kappes, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the gathering that the nation’s existing facility for studying animal diseases, a 54-year-old laboratory on Plum Island, N.Y., was inadequate for animal research.
Kappes said the facility’s labs were too small to study diseases in large animals, and the facility had no laboratory for studying the most deadly pathogens, which require an ultra-secure lab known as BSL-4.
In Atlanta, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Georgia State University have BSL-4 labs for the study of dangerous human pathogens.
“NBAF is essential,” Kappes said.
In Athens, a group calling itself For Athens Quality-of-Life is opposing the NBAF facility in Georgia, claiming it cannot be built safely enough to eliminate the possibility that diseases under study might escape.
Kate McDaniel, who lives near the 67-acre site offered by UGA, came to Thursday’s hearing with a sign reading, “Deadly Pathogens Don’t Stay Put! No Bio Lab Here.”
“There is no technology will erase human error,” said McDaniel, explaining her opposition to the lab before the meeting.
Jamie Johnson, director of laboratories for DHS, said the danger posed by agro-terrorism and the emergence of new and deadly diseases made NBAF a national imperative.
“This is a large risk,” Johnson said.
Other sites under consideration are Plum Island, San Antonio, Texas; Flora, Miss.; Butner, N.C.; Manhattan, Kan.