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MANHATTAN, Kansas (DTN) -- State officials see a crown jewel of research that will draw world-class scientists to Kansas State University, while federal officials say the new diagnostic lab under construction in Manhattan will provide a first line of defense against foreign animal diseases globally.
As dignitaries declared at a groundbreaking on Wednesday, once completed, the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, will provide the country its first state-of-the-art lab and containment facility of its kind to deal with emerging and foreign animal diseases.
"This is going to be a world-class facility, with world-class researchers confronting world-class problems and threats with world-class solutions," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
Once completed in 2022, NBAF will be a 700,000-square-foot facility that will take the lead in dealing with foreign and infectious animal diseases. The facility will work on diagnostics, training, research and vaccines. NBAF will deal with the kind of animal pathogens that currently do not have treatments or countermeasures.
Vilsack added the facility helps reassure the American public that the country will continue to have a safe and affordable food supply. "When you have a facility like this you can reassure American farmers of the capacity to deal with disease and pests before they can become a problem -- before they can jeopardize our supply."
Through USDA and the Department of Homeland Security, NBAF will have essentially two federal agencies operating it. The Department of Homeland Security took the lead on funding construction. USDA will have facilities within NBAF, but overall operations will be led by Homeland Security officials.
The facility comes as the U.S. deals with an avian influenza outbreak that has now become the largest foreign animal disease outbreak in U.S. history. Avian influenza has hit commercial operations in at least 14 states while decimating Minnesota's commercial turkey production and Iowa's egg-laying industry. The number of dead or culled birds because of the H5N2 strain of bird flu is approaching 50 million.
"Early this spring we saw the devastating toll bird flu has taken in the Plains states," said Manhattan Mayor Karen McCulloh.
McCulloh and other Kansas officials noted work began on the lab in 1999. Kirk Schulz, president of Kansas State University, said U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., came to K-State officials back then to push the effort to develop a large diagnostic animal-science lab at the university. K-State officials at the time put together a plan for a facility that would cost $95 million, Schulz said.
"That was the birth really of a lot of the concepts we are building here today," Schulz said.
The project has ballooned to what will become a $1.25 billion bio-lab facility adjacent to the K-State campus. The actual construction contract for the final phase of NBAF will be $835 million.
NBAF will replace the Animal Disease Center in Plum Island, New York, which was built in 1954 and is considered antiquated as a bio-containment facility by today's standards. Kansas officials aggressively pushed and lobbied to replace Plum Island, beating out other states and other major land-grant universities in the process. Kansas lawmakers voted to put up 25% of the funds to build the facility as well to land it.
"There will be no place like this in the world once this project is finished," said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who declared NBAF will become the world's premier location for science and research on foreign-animal diseases.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., highlighted the importance of protecting the food supply, but he also added that such a global science lab will help grow the economy of Kansas through research and science.