The Billings Gazette: Tester: Proposed federal lab endangers U.S. beef

Federal plans to relocate a dangerous animal disease laboratory from an isolated island to the heart of cattle country is too risky for the nation’s beef industry, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont, warned Tuesday.

Siding with the Billings-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, Tester urged Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to abandon plans for relocating an isolated national animal disease lab to Manhattan, Kan.

The National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, located off the New York coast, is scheduled for relocation to Kansas, where state officials hope a federal-university partnership will boost the state’s bioscience profile. The cost of the project is $650 million.

But Tester and R-CALF USA argue that the lab belongs on Plum Island, N.Y., where the danger of infecting the American cattle industry with foot-and-mouth disease is minimal.

Outbreaks of the disease in other countries have meant the full-scale destruction of national livestock herds. Late last year, federal officials released a 146-page report indicating a 70 percent likelihood of an outbreak in the next 50 years if the lab is relocated, but proponents of the project debunked the report and pressed ahead. “The potential for this to spread like wildfire is real,” Tester said.

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