America’s food supply is threatened by both terrorism and natural plant and animal diseases, and the nation is not prepared to deal with it, the president of Kansas State University testified to Congress Wednesday.
“Key components of America’s critical infrastructure – agriculture and food – are vulnerable to terrorist attack with bioweapons and un-deliberate infectious disease outbreaks, and I think the U.S. is unprepared to confront those threats,” said K-State President Richard Myers.
Myers, a retired four-star Air Force general who formerly served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was invited to testify by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas and the chairman of the Agriculture Committee.
“Hungry people are unhappy people,” Myers said. “America still feeds the world and there is an urgent need to protect America’s food crops, food animals and food supply from naturally occurring and intentionally developed and delivered biological threats. Either could be devastating.”
Myers told the senators that K-State has been using its own biological isolation labs to jump-start research on four emerging animal diseases in anticipation of the opening of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.
NBAF, a $1.25-billion national laboratory, is under construction adjacent to the K-State campus in Manhattan.
But until it opens, the university will need federal funding to continue the research on the four diseases – Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis and two variants of swine fever.
As part of its pitch to land the NBAF lab, Kansas committed to spend $35 million on that kind of research.
That commitment will end with a final state payment of $5 million in 2019, Myers said.
“There’s a big gap between that time and when NBAF will come on line” in 2022 or 2023, he testified.
When it comes to emerging disease research, “we can’t wait for NBAF to come on line with its funding to do that,” he said.
Myers didn’t specify how much money will be needed to continue the research.
He said remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist movement have been known to experiment with animal diseases in remote parts of Iraq since the U.S. chased them from Afghanistan.
“Al-Qaida may be down, but they’re not out,” he said.
Myers also told the senators the United States needs to fix a critical shortage of agricultural scientists, veterinarians and doctors who have the necessary security clearances to view and act on classified intelligence information.
Roberts said he thinks Myers’ recommendations need to be written into the next farm bill to emerge from Capitol Hill.
“I have long felt (agricultural security) is of the utmost importance, not only to farmers, ranchers and the agricultural value chain, but also to consumers, the American economy and the safety of our country,” he said.