In presenting the agency’s study request to the committee on April 13, 2012, DHS Under Secretary O’Toole noted that although DHS remains convinced of the need for the NBAF, the source of funds to construct it has yet to be identified. She pointed to cuts of 53% in DHS’s science and technology division budget, the many competing needs in the agency (for both facilities and research), the general fragility of the national economy, and the collapsed real-estate value of the Plum Island property, whose sale was once envisioned as a source of revenue for building the NBAF.
At the same time, DHS Under Secretary O’Toole noted that given the high stakes of the threat of animal disease for the large US agricultural economy, not providing an adequate laboratory infrastructure could also be very costly in the long run. That assessment provided a context for the work of the committee, which set about examining the two proposed alternatives to the NBAF as currently designed.
The Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) is currently the only US facility that can provide many but not all of the capabilities necessary for a central national laboratory as part of the US system for addressing FAD and zoonotic disease threats. However, it has no capacity for ABSL-4 large-animal work, and its BSL-3Ag space is currently considered substandard. The committee was informed by DHS that adding ABSL-4 capacity to PIADC would not be possible, given the need for political and local acceptance of zoonotic disease work on Plum Island.
Even if continued renovations of such laboratory space at PIADC were contemplated, it might not ultimately increase the utility of the facility. PIADC is aging and increasingly inefficient, and there is a relatively high annual cost associated with continually renovating and maintaining it. That cost could be a drain on the system in the long term, and funds might be better placed in supporting disease surveillance or diagnostic development and research. Inasmuch as PIADC is the only facility permitted to work on foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDv), the committee finds that an alternative facility with BSL-3 Enhanced (BSL-3E) and BSL-3Ag laboratory space will be needed to continue that research. However, because foot-and-mouth disease research remains critical for the US animal health system, the committee concludes that it will be essential to support PIADC until an alternative facility is authorized, constructed, commissioned, and approved for work with FMDv (Conclusion 4).
In evaluating the PIADC alternative, the committee spent a considerable amount of time examining the need for ABSL-4 large-animal laboratory space, how it would be used, and how much of it would be needed. Chapter 3 points out that although by definition none of the livestock-specific FADs requires