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National Bio and Agro-defense Facility

About the facility and U.S. bio/agrodefense policy

With the arrival of the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF), Kansas State University is cementing its reputation as a national leader in protecting U.S. agriculture — crops, livestock — and food from global biothreats, while safeguarding people from zoonotic animal diseases and foodborne pathogens. NBAF will attract even more of the best and brightest scientists to Manhattan and, hopefully, further accelerate collaboration among researchers focused on U.S. bio/agrodefense − a critical national security need.

The year after September 11th and the anthrax attacks in 2001, al Qaeda's bio/agroterrorism plans were discovered in a cave in Afghanistan; plans for bioweapons targeting not just people, but crops and livestock as well. Consequently, greatly improved bio/agrodefense was mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-9, Defense of United States Agriculture and Food, January 30, 2004.  Six essential components for protecting agriculture and food were delineated therein (A-F in the graphic below); all are vital. HSPD-10, Biodefense for the 21st century, April 28, 2004, focused on human biothreats. 

Bio-Agrodefense Policy

The "Research and Development" requirement (F) in HSPD-9 called out the need for "safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment labratories that research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases." New countermeasures for treating those diseases were urgently needed as well. NBAF is the result.

Click here for a 2-page overview of all major requirements of HSPD-9 denoting the federal agencies charged with carrying them out. 

Public Law 115-43, Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act, in 2017 amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to codify specific HSPD-9 mandates in federal statute for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The bio/agrodefense obligation for the DHS Secretary is defined in the graphic below.

Public Law 115-43

But, what are "the Department's responsibilities pursuant to HSPD-9" for which "oversight and management" are dictated?

It turns out they are many and varied, since DHS is the designated lead or co-lead for multiple elements of HSPD-9 as shown below. In fact, no other federal agency has more leadership mandates within HSPD-9 than DHS. The likely reason is that a majority of these elements are national security priorities, so having a national security agency − DHS − in charge was likely intended to ensure effective implementation and oversight. 

Responsibilities

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) might seem to be the logical choice to defend agriculture, it is not a national security agency. Thus, it is less capable of fulfilling some of the requisite tasks. Nonetheless, USDA shares a number of responsibilities above with DHS, and it has the lead or co-lead authority for another six HSPD-9 requirements (8, 16-18, 20, and 21). All federal agency responsibilities are summarized in the linked 2-page overview.

Lastly on the public policy front, when the 2018 National Biodefense Strategy (NBS) was released by the White House, Sept. 18th, 2018, National Security Presidential Directive/NSPM-14 was issued as well. As noted in the latter, HSPD-9 remains in effect and operational, while its human health counterpart, HSPD-10, was superseded and replaced by the NBS. Thus, the Trump administration must have recognized the importance of retaining HSPD-9 to protect U.S. agriculture and food.

Unfortunately, federal agency implementation of HSPD-9 is lacking, at best. As highlighted in the graphic below, little progress has been documented since 2004. Consequently, American agriculture − crops, livestock − and food are not well protected from global biothreats.

Bio-Ag Results

Hopefully, the 2017 amendment to the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by Public Law 115-43 − Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act (disclosed above) − will lead to improvements. Done right, "agriculture security is homeland security" ... or should be. However, it requires bio/agrodefense policy − HSPD-9 − to be implemented appropriately by federal agencies in partnership with agriculture and food stakeholders from the public and private sectors. That's not today's reality.