Speak Your Piece: Not Here

Would you let the same people who operate the license bureau run a lab in the middle of cattle country that handles live foot and mouth disease? Neither would I.

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One of the biggest threats to our national security is the foreign and domestic threat of disease introduction to our nation’s livestock herd. The primary threat being foot and mouth disease, especially introduced to the herd by left wing groups. 

The study of this disease and other zoologicals is of just as much importance as research on military hardware in regards to our citizens’ safety. This research is currently being done at an outdated facility on Plum Island, New York. The key word here is “island.”

The choice of Plum Island as a research facility surrounded by salt water, a solution that destroys pathogens, reminds of a bygone era when at least some choices made by our government had an inkling of common sense. The decision to put the facility on Plum Island perhaps saved the American food system’s access to home grown meat protein when, in 1978, according to a 2008 Department of Homeland Security report, foot and mouth disease was released outside of the lab.

Had that release been on the mainland U.S., the consequences could have been the decimation of the largest sector of America’s agricultural economy – the U.S cattle herd. Britain experienced an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in their country, an outbreak attributed to human error at a research facility. The loss resulting from that outbreak is still being counted — 10,000,000 animals and $16 billion dollars.

After the 9/11 attacks, the Plum Island facility was put under the watchful eye of the Department of Homeland Security, and soon after a need for more research was agreed upon. It was determined that Plum Island was dilapidated, hard to attract good scientists to, and “isolated.”  Notice how the words “island” and “isolated” resemble each other?

To alleviate these issues a search began for a new facility. Under the guise of choosing a suitable location for the safety of our nation’s food supply, the issue turned political, with Senator Pat Roberts and others advocating their home state of Kansas for the new location. In our government’s infinite wisdom, it was decided to put the facility in the heart of our livestock industry, in Manhattan, Kansas. 

A study done by the National Academy of Sciences showed that during a 50 year period there was a 70% chance that a substance being studied by the facility would be released into the environment. (See an earlier Daily Yonder story on this project here.)

This study was rebutted by Homeland Security after changes were made to the facilities plans. The agency touts a less than one percent chance of an outbreak of any kind. This study is in the process of being reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences. I do not know if any of these studies measure the risk of human error such as we had occur previously on Plum Island and in England.

The original cost of the facility was estimated at $450 million dollars. The state of Kansas, led by Governor Brownback, anteed up over $100 million dollars to keep the project going even after federal funding had been cut. 

Homeland Security has projected the project will now cost $1.1 billion dollars. As of February 16, 2012, a projected cost of the project was stated as $650 million during a communication between Governor Brownback and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Both raised concern over the increasing costs of the project at a time when the federal government is broke. None of these figures mentions allegations of a payroll scandal or graft in handling of the funds, which at this time are being investigated by the Johnson County District Attorney.

As we watch the two political parties wrangle for control of the presidency, I see the Republican torch held high for smaller government and less taxes. The need for disease research is a bipartisan effort but the location of the lab is purely political. The spin can be surreal.

Plum Island involves 200 jobs, counting support staff. National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) proponents for the Kansas facility say it will create 600 jobs at the facility. 

A threefold increase? Sounds like a government project, doesn’t it? Oh wait, it is.

Senator Roberts is giving it his “laser like” attention to see it through with the full support of Governor Brownback. Even staring at an almost $800 million overrun in costs, at a time of state and federal budget deficits, these icons of financial responsibility are pushing harder than ever for a pet pork project that may never get funded and could quite possibly could wipe out our cattle industry.

If the project can be a victim of budget cuts now, what about the future? Can the safety of the facility be degraded by future partisan gestures? The National Academy of Sciences has predicted that the economic cost of the facility, over its life, will be between $9 and $50 billion. If NBAF is built in the heart of livestock country, and an outbreak occurs, that money will be a pittance compared to the devastation an outbreak would cause the United States of America. 

Build NBAF in a secure, common sense location such as Plum Island, New York — isolated, and protected by the natural sanitizer, salt water.

We need NBAF, just not here. I don’t feel confident trusting the same people who run the postal service or the Kansas License Bureau with the bio security of our food supply.

Paul W. Acton is a cow-calf producer from Blue Mound Kansas, and former president of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association.

 

 

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