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Kansas biodefense facility should proceed, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack says

  • Associated Press
  • Published Tuesday, April 10, 2012, at 5:35 p.m.

— U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility near Kansas State University should move forward and not be considered a “parochial” issue relevant only to Kansas.

After a Landon Lecture Tuesday, Vilsack said having the proposed $650 million research facility was important to ensure the United States would continue to have a safe and adequate food supply for its citizens and the world.

“I understand the importance and significance of getting that done,” Vilsack said.

Kansas was awarded the NBAF project in 2010 to replace an aging USDA facility at Plum Island, N.Y. The lab would handle research on a host of deadly agricultural pathogens. Critics have said moving such research to the mainland would put the nation’s food supply and security at unnecessary risk.

Vilsack said a recent revised risk assessment that put the chance of the release of a deadly animal pathogen such as foot-and-mouth disease at 1/10th of 1 percent. Vilsack said that was an indication of how safe NBAF was being designed and would be constructed to protect the nation’s food supply.

However, the proposed 2013 federal budget does not contain funding for construction of NBAF and instead calls for the Department of Homeland Security to reassess the project. The budget does include $10 million to begin the transfer of some research from Plum Island to Kansas State’s Biosecurity Research Institute on certain swine diseases.

“We’re going to continue to work with members of Congress to figure out how and when, with difficult and tight budgets, we can fund this,” Vilsack said.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and staunch backer of NBAF, said Vilsack understood the need for the lab and that if there were a deadly food safety outbreak it would fall to USDA to solve.

“He stands squarely behind this project and has said where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Roberts said.

Vilsack and Roberts said it made sense to begin transitioning some research out of New York regardless of the status of NBAF. Roberts also said moving more research to the Midwest near researchers and experts in animal health bodes well for the overall project.

Vilsack used his Landon Lecture to discuss how agriculture helps provide greater economic and energy independence for the U.S.

The Landon Lecture series is named for former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential nominee.

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