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Kansas State University
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Manhattan, KS 66506
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Prepared by: Mike Apley is an associate professor of production medicine/clinical pharmacology at Kansas State University, where he also serves as director of PharmCATS Bioanalytical Services, an analytical service laboratory supporting academic and pharmaceutical industry research. He can be contacted at 785-532-4167 or mapley@vet.k-state.edu.

Monday, Sept. 15, 2008

OP-ED: NOT HAVING NBAF AT K-STATE WOULD BE A RISK

MANHATTAN -- The debate over the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility has covered a lot of ground in relation to risk versus benefit for Kansas State University, the community of Manhattan and the state of Kansas. I respect the concerns, and suspect that the issue for many may be a perception that select individuals will be enriched while the associated risk is taken on by the public. We are debating risk versus benefit, and who gets which.

To first address the issue of risk, it is important to recognize that zero risk is not obtainable. Our differences come in the degree of risk we are willing to tolerate. I am not an expert in the design and operation of these types of facilities, but I do trust the judgment of my colleagues with the appropriate expertise. Their conclusion is that the multiple layers of safeguards built into the facility make the potential of a release very, very low -- much lower than the risk from international travelers bringing foreign animal diseases to our country.

If your definition of acceptable risk is none, then no quantitation of this risk will be satisfactory and we really don't have much more to talk about. I would point out that if a zero-risk policy extends to all your activities, there probably wouldn't be much activity. We have to be realistic about the risks, though: Does this community really think researchers would trust pathogens such as foot-and-mouth disease to routine FedEx delivery?

For benefits, are we really thinking broadly enough? Kansas State University is typical of land-grant universities across the nation. There is a long history of service to the state and nation with an accelerating decline in the proportion of operating expenses supported by state funds. This new model requires a long-term vision of providing for the secure future of the institution through a balance of gifts, research, tuition and entrepreneurial funding.

One of the reasons I returned to K-State as a faculty member 18 years after graduation is that K-State has leadership with the vision to move this university forward in a manner that will preserve our ability to educate the sons and daughters of Kansas for decades to come. I'm one of those sons, and my two sons will be the third generation through K-State. The National Bio and Agro-defense Facility is part of building the relationships to support this university through collaborative opportunities.

We can discuss for whom the argument for NBAF is self-serving -- you may consider me one of those -- but I feel the biggest beneficiary will be Kansas through a healthier land-grant university that serves the needs of our youth and the livestock industry. This includes having the facility best equipped to address exotic pathogen outbreaks right here in our midst. How much less damage to the beef market would have been done by the appropriate quarantine of the Holton livestock market in 2002 if the diagnostic center had been two hours away instead of on the East Coast? What better way to protect and serve the Kansas livestock industry than to put the solution to foreign disease threats in our midst, in collaboration with Kansans serving the Kansas livestock industry?

It is with great respect that I recognize the numbers of livestock producers surrounding the community of Manhattan and the resources and effort invested in their holdings. I would ask all to consider if K-State has had any part in your success, and if this further advancement in livestock research capability might help K-State continue to be a part of your continued success.