Although he made no promises, the dean of agriculture at Kansas State University told a cattlemen’s group that he believes a new federal laboratory to study livestock diseases is no threat to their herds.
Fred Cholick assured the Kansas Cattlemen’s Convention that he would not be afraid to live next door to the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, which is expected to open on the Kansas State campus in five or six years.
“I wouldn’t be concerned if my brother-in-law had a beef and sheep operation next to it,” Cholick said.
The government made the best choice when it chose the Kansas State campus as the site for the $450 million, ultra-secure laboratory, Cholick said.
“We do have the expertise, vision and passion to protect the food industry,” he said.
But Cholick’s presentation left “a lot of unanswered questions,” said Brandy Carter, executive editor of the KCA, which is based in Junction City with 1,500 members in 24 states.
The cattlemen’s group wanted the lab to stay at its current site in Plum Island, N.Y. Now that it will be built in Manhattan, KCA members intend to learn more.
“When something happens, we want to make sure there’s protection for producers,” Carter said.
Cattlemen are concerned about building a lab that researches many of the most deadly diseases for animals, including foot and mouth disease, and some that could infect humans, such as West Nile virus.
No strains that can be passed between humans will be researched at the laboratory.
The group plans to take its concerns to the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It depends on the answers we get. We will take it to Congress,” Carter said.
Members asked Cholick about compensation if herds, or the food system, are contaminated.
“I just don’t have an answer for you (about liability),” Cholick said. “I just don’t know.”
Cattleman also expressed concerns about potential flooding or a possible terrorist attack on the lab.
And Paul W. Henningsen, of Wamego, asked if foot and mouth disease could be stopped, or if such a scenario would lead to stopping cattle from Mexico to the United States.
Cholick said the NBAF would look at the migration of disease and how to reduce the effects.
“We can’t build a wall around us. We have to understand the organisms and develop countermeasures. It’s an approach we need to take,” Cholick said.
John Edwards, cattleman from Hamilton, recalled his grandfather’s stories about a case of foot and mouth disease that required the killing, burning and burying of livestock in the early 20th century.
“We went through this once, fellers. Let’s not let it happen again,” Edwards said.
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