In 2022, the curtain will close on the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York and the doors will open on the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. The $1.25 billion facility is a biosafety level-4 laboratory and will play an instrumental role in securing the food supply and developing vaccines for animal diseases.
NBAF is being constructed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen toured the facility for a firsthand look at the laboratory that will handle large animal pathogens that do not currently have treatments or countermeasures.
“There's always something to be said about seeing something firsthand,” she told a group of reporters following a tour of the facility on Monday. “I was very impressed with how complex the project is. From a contract perspective, it's hundreds of subcontractors over the years and change, or it's a very complex management project.”
Because it will house high-risk pathogens, NBAF it is designed to withstand natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to E-F5 tornadoes.
“That's important because it's very difficult to bolt on that security on the back end,” she explained. “So, it's being built right in. The containment will be secure no matter what the weather throws at us. It's very impressive to see.”
While the project currently remains under the auspices of DHS, a 2019 federal budget proposes transferring authority of NBAF to the U.S. Department of Agriculture when the laboratory opens in late 2022 or early 2023.
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) said he expects the facility’s billon-dollar price tag to be matched by private sector investments in animal science in north central Kansas and northeast Kansas. The location is strategic both for its proximity to the animal health corridor and veterinary, agriculture and biosecurity research.
“It's never easy to appropriate a billion dollars,” Moran said. “That's a huge amount of money. But in comparison to what the cost to the economy, but more important, the loss of life that can occur as a result of either an intentional or unintentional introduction of bio agent into our food supply system, it is a price worth paying.”
Americans take safe food for granted, said Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS), and they don’t necessarily realize the work that goes into keeping it safe. Some threats are natural and some are manmade, he said, but we need to invest to be able to respond to all of them to keep our food supply intact.
The project is 67% compete and will be finished by 2021, said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
“They’re on time and on schedule,” he said.
During the press conference at NBAF, Sen. Roberts also said he predicts the long awaited and debated vaccine bank will be part of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Video and reporting by Portia Stewart.