For a state like South Dakota, with five times as many cattle and twice as many hogs and chickens as we have citizens, livestock health is a big deal. We all know the tremendous impact the livestock sector has on our state’s economy, but it’s easy to forget the connection between livestock health and human health.
Livestock disease control techniques have advanced rapidly in recent years in response to worldwide disease epidemics. Since 2013, South Dakota has seen outbreaks of four new diseases not previously seen in the United States.
The state, our agriculture industry and South Dakota State University work together to fund the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory, which serves as our state animal health laboratory. The current facility was built in 1967 and remodeled in 1993. It is out-of-date and needs to be modernized to correct aging infrastructure, accommodate new technologies, and meet current and future standards. That’s why I’m working with the Legislature and agriculture industry to upgrade and expand the lab.
The lab provides critical research and diagnostic support to protect our citizens and livestock industry from disease outbreaks. The scientists who work there conduct tests to identify diseases, distinguish unique strains, and develop vaccines and other treatments to assist veterinarians, ranchers, farmers, pet owners, wildlife managers, public health officials, and state and federal agencies.
Each year the lab tests hundreds of thousands of samples in nine specialized areas. When the lab was last upgraded, molecular diagnostic tests, which analyze genetic code to determine irregularities, had not yet been developed as a cost effective diagnostic tool. Now the lab conducts more than 200,000 such tests annually.
More new technologies are coming and further space is needed to accommodate them. We have to be cutting edge; we are not testing for yesterday’s diseases, we’re testing for the diseases of today and tomorrow.
Politicians talk about public-private partnerships all the time – it’s almost a catchphrase. But in South Dakota we take action. It’s going to be a lean budget year and the agriculture sector is not as strong as it has been. Although this is a difficult time to make investments in our core infrastructure, a strong animal health lab is essential to the long-term security of our number one industry and the citizens of our state.
We all know the cost of doing nothing. When disease outbreaks risk the production of our food and the health of our citizens, a timely, accurate diagnosis of the cause is essential. I look forward to working with the Legislature, agriculture industry, and SDSU to sustain this public-private partnership and upgrade and expand South Dakota’s animal health laboratory.