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Kansas State University
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Prepared by: Dan Thomson, the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology, associate professor of clinical sciences in the K-State College of Veterinary Medicine, and director of the Beef Cattle Institute. He can be reached at 785-532-4254 or dthomson@vet.k-state.edu

Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

OPINION: NBAF IN KANSAS WILL BE SAFE, BIOSECURE

MANHATTAN -- With Manhattan's selection as the preferred site for the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility, or NBAF, I'm sure there will be questions about whether this facility really will be able to operate safely and biosecurely.

I liken these questions to ones beef producers face every day in trying to explain our business and the safety of our product to consumers. Often, we hear from groups that simply don't understand how hard beef producers work to ensure the safety and humane treatment of their cattle because we know this translates into a safer product for all. By this, I mean the uninformed consumers who think all beef producers mistreat cattle, taint our products with chemicals or antibiotics or think they will get E. coli from every hamburger they eat.

Unfortunately, I think some may judge the presence of NBAF in Kansas in a fashion similar to the beefs some uninformed consumers have against beef. Many are scared or think NBAF will bring doom and gloom to Kansas and Manhattan based on misinformation and misconceptions.

Because not many of us actually study infectious diseases, we don't understand the level of biosecurity that will be in place in this type of facility. How many of us passing judgment on this type of facility have visited one or worked with one?

The National Animal Disease Center at Ames, Iowa, is a longstanding example of how work with infectious diseases that affect animals can be conducted safely. The center has been in Ames, a university community like Manhattan, since 1956. Work at the facility has dealt with hog cholera, brucellosis, avian influenza and other diseases. This biosafety-level 3 facility has been located close to livestock for decades.

In Manhattan, we are already discovering this safe co-existence of livestock and work on animal diseases. NBAF research could start now at Kansas State University because of K-State's Biosecurity Research Institute at Pat Roberts Hall. It houses biosafety level 3 and biosafety level 3-ag laboratories and environmental rooms. Our BRI labs are secure and biosecure, as will be NBAF's labs. No bad people will get in and no bad bugs will get out. And, work at NBAF will dovetail nicely with the work of the BRI. We have the experts on the K-State campus to work with the Department of Homeland Security to make the NBAF transition safe and expedient.

There is no doubt that NBAF will bring international prestige and exposure to K-State. The growth of faculty positions and collaborative research would be unbelievable. NBAF also will bring students to our campus from all areas of the United States and beyond. The opportunities for bright scientists to stay in our state and call Kansas home would definitely help our local school systems and communities. Our communities and state stand to thrive from the economic stimulus that NBAF would create.

Still, I can understand apprehension about a facility that will deal with infectious diseases. My challenge to our community is to get informed. Contact a local veterinarian or contact faculty that teach in the infectious disease area at K-State or at other universities. We are often scared more of the unknown than the known.

K-State needs NBAF, Kansas needs NBAF. Let's not let this one get away from us. I have four daughters and work every day with beef cattle in the state of Kansas. This is our home, this is our life. I want NBAF in Kansas because it will be good for all of us.