RL34160 - The National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility: Issues for Congress
14-Dec-2009; Dana A. Shea, Jim Monke, and Frank Gottron; 23 p.
Update: Previous Releases:
September 26, 2008
November 15, 2007
October 4, 2007
Abstract: The agricultural and food infrastructure of the United States is potentially susceptible to terrorist attack using biological pathogens. In addition to the effects of such an attack on the economy, some animal diseases could potentially be transmitted to humans. These diseases are known as zoonotic diseases. Scientific and medical research on plant and animal diseases may lead to the discovery and development of new diagnostics and countermeasures, reducing the risk and effects of a successful terrorist attack.
To safeguard the United States against animal disease, Congress has appropriated funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to engage in research at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), off the coast of New York, on animal diseases not native to the United States. When creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003, Congress transferred PIADC from USDA to DHS. Both USDA and DHS, in cooperation with USDA, conduct foreign animal disease research at PIADC, but PIADC has been identified as outdated and too limited to continue as the primary facility for this research.
Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 tasks the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security to develop a plan to provide safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment laboratories for research and development of diagnostic capabilities and medical countermeasures for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases. To partially meet these obligations, DHS has requested Congress to appropriate funds to construct a new facility, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). This facility would house high-containment laboratories able to handle the pathogens currently under investigation at PIADC, as well as other pathogens of interest. Six candidate sites have been identified, one of which is Plum Island. The DHS plans to select the site in 2008 and open NBAF in 2015. The final construction cost will depend on the site location and has been estimated to range between $648 million and $939 million, significantly exceeding 2005 baseline projections. Additional expenses, such as equipping the new facility, relocating existing personnel and programs, and preparing the PIADC facility for disposition, may exceed an additional $100 million.
The plans announced by DHS to establish the NBAF have raised several issues. Community concerns about safety and security, previously expressed about PIADC and other laboratories being built to study dangerous pathogens, are also being voiced about NBAF. Coordination between DHS and USDA, as well as prioritization and investment in agricultural biodefense, may be reassessed if more high-containment laboratory space becomes available.
Research with live foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus is allowed on the U.S. mainland only if explicitly permitted by the USDA Secretary. However, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-246) instructs USDA to issue such a permit to DHS for possession of FMD virus at NBAF, subject to select agent rules.