September 26, 2023

This week’s announcement of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility’s ceremonial dedication and ribbon-cutting is highly encouraging. Since the journey to get here has taken almost my whole adult life, it also makes me feel ancient.

The facility, also known as NBAF, is a cutting-edge lab where researchers will study animal illnesses that may also infect humans and create vaccines and antivirals for some very unpleasant viruses. The facility is a successor for the more than 60-year-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center off the coast of New York. Among other illnesses, NBAF will look into nipah virus, foot and mouth disease (FMD), and African swine fever.

An epidemic of FMD in the United States would be extremely expensive for the cattle business alone as it is one of the most contagious infectious diseases in the world. Although there are vaccines available for certain strains, there are so many variations that it is difficult to provide complete protection.

It may seem strange that a laboratory that would research some of the most deadly illnesses that endanger our food supply, the agricultural industry, and public health would be located in the middle of the country. Between Manhattan and Columbia, Missouri, however, NBAF will serve as the cornerstone for the so-called Animal Health Corridor. More than 300 animal health businesses are based in the area, which generates 56% of the industry’s total global revenues.

NBAF will make even more use of the local networking, cooperation, education, and training that currently exist to not just safeguard but also enhance our food supply. To better understand the effects of new illnesses on both humans and cattle, research will go beyond well-known pathogens.

The laboratory has received the highest degree of biosafety certification, making it the first of its type in the United States to investigate animal illnesses. Such diseases may damage people, as recent history has demonstrated, thus research is essential for early detection to reduce the impact on public health.

While the building’s testing and construction are complete with the ribbon cutting, the scientific mission won’t be completely functioning for another year or two. When it does, it will also offer 24/7 diagnostic testing to swiftly find potential diseases. Federal and state veterinarians will also receive training from the diagnostic lab so they can comprehend epidemics better and know how to control them.

The federal government originally declared its intention to rebuild the Plum Island plant about 20 years ago. Although there have been many ups and downs in the site selection and funding procedures over the last two decades, NBAF is prepared to safeguard the nation’s food supply and public health for the ensuing decades from both established and emerging illnesses. In other words, Kansas will be key to ensuring the future of agriculture.

from the Kansas Farm Bureau, Greg Doering. The Kansas agricultural Bureau, the state’s biggest agricultural group, publishes a weekly column titled “Insight” with the aim of enhancing agriculture and Kansans’ quality of life via advocacy, service, and education.

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