The proposed NBAF lab at in Manhattan, Kan., would study ways to guard the nation's food supply against diseases like bird flu and Mad Cow disease. (Harvest Public Media file photo)
The National Academies of Sciences issued a set of 10 conclusions today on the future of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kan.
The report from its National Research Committee determined that while there is a critical need for a so-called BSL4 lab that will research the most dangerous emerging diseases to affect particularly livestock, the current NBAF proposal could be scaled back.
In a teleconference with reporters this afternoon, committee chair Terry McElwain of the University of Washington, outlined the three options his committee was charged with looking at: moving forward with NBAF as proposed, scaling it back and collaborating with other labs, or using the existing facility on Plum Island in cooperation with foreign labs.
The good news and bad news for supporters of NBAF was that the report, commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security, said a scaled back-version of the NBAF was fine.
“The committee did find it was possible to scale back NBAF as currently proposed,” McElwain said.
He said the committee investigated the increased number of research labs around the country and found it would be inefficient not to use the intellectual and capital investment those labs make available.
The committee found the Plum Island Animal Disease Center unsalvageable. The half-century old lab off the coast of Long Island, N.Y. -- the only place the most contagious and incurable large animal diseases are studied today — is, in the committee's words “outdated…inefficient…and (even with) investments, can’t meet biosafety standards.” At the same time, the report found the U.S. should not rely on foreign labs for support. Those labs, understandably, might not have the same research priorities. Furthermore, the distance is not a practical way to deal with a disease outbreak.
Kansas' U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran issued a joint statement with Gov. Sam Brownback urging the White House to release funds for the construction of the lab in Manhattan. Congress has allocated $165 million for the project to date.
Ground has been broken at the NBAF site on the campus of Kansas State University, where an enormous hole awaits the release of more federal funds.
Brownback indicated in an interview earlier this spring that the state might be willing to put forward some funds for the project.
The final conclusion of today's National Research Committee report was that “to most appropriately fill critical laboratory needs ... (DHS) will need … a more comprehensive assessment.”
McElwain said he felt the committee added little to existing studies or literature.