House Denies Funds For Ag Biodefense Lab

The Department of Homeland Security's National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), to be built in Manhattan, Kansas, ran into a funding roadblock last week when the U.S. House of Representatives passed an appropriations bill denying $36 million sought by DHS for the first phase of construction. The Senate version of the bill, approved by a Senate spending panel but yet to be passed by the full Senate, includes the money. The House bill instead provides $5 million for a study on the risks of studying foot-and-mouth disease on the mainland, which is one of the things NBAF would do. Whether DHS can start construction in 2010 as planned will depend on the final funding picture when the two bills are conferenced.

The facility, which the government estimates will cost upward of $450 million and take 5 years to build, is supposed to replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York state. Some environmentalists have opposed the new lab from the beginning out of concern that it would pose a threat to agriculture, livestock, and human health. DHS is also fending off a lawsuit filed by a Texas consortium this spring arguing that the agency erred in choosing Manhattan as the site for the facility because there was considerable risk of a tornado tearing it down.