Sen. Pat Roberts
Sen. Pat Roberts

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) makes no bones about it. The time is now to continue with funding and the construction of the and National Bio and Agrodefense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan.

Roberts, who was speaking to Kansas City Animal Health Corridor members this week in Kansas City, Mo., says a previous trip to Russia seeing what some of their potential biological weaponization capabilities are as well as his participation in a mock foot and mouth disease exercise in Kansas, demonstrated the urgent need for a biosafety level 4 laboratory to replace the aging Plum Island, N.Y., facility.

“I learned from that exercise which dealt with a hypothetical FMD outbreak through several states the devastation that can occur to the livestock industry, food production, food supply, etc.,” he said.

Roberts also took part in some agroterrorism conferences put on by the FBI and other agencies over the last several years in Kansas City that also discussed potential agroterrorism and agriculture emergency situations.  “I learned from that about mitigation efforts and the importance of law enforcement in this whole scheme. I’m proud to say all 105 counties in Kansas have an emergency plan in place.”

The NBAF has had its share of turmoil with lawsuits, funding issues and more. Budget cuts at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have been an issue. “We need DHS to walk the walk on funding,” Roberts said. “If we have a possible agroterrorism event that is regional or nationwide, we can’t afford not to build the NBAF.”

The NBAF is still undergoing review process, though Roberts says Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is supportive of a level 4 lab and DHS Secretary of Janet Napolitano has also indicated support. “This lab at Kansas State would work with other universities as well,” Roberts said. “It’s a national lab for a national threat. The reviews are done and it’s time to act.” He said in the next few weeks more options surrounding funding of the NBAF will be discussed.

“It’s about the safety of the U.S. food supply,” Roberts said. “This is a bipartisan issue and I’m optimistic we’ll get it done.”