Date:  July 13, 2012




Scaled-Back NBAF and NBAF as Designed Are Options That Could Meet Critical U.S. Lab Needs as Part of Integrated National Strategy to Protect Animal and Public Health


WASHINGTON — It is "imperative" that the U.S. build a large-animal biocontainment laboratory to protect animal and public health, says a new report by the National Research Council.  Two options that could meet long-term needs include the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) facility as currently designed, or a scaled-back version tied to a distributed laboratory network.  Until such a facility opens that is authorized to work with highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease, the Plum Island Animal Disease Center located off Long Island should remain in operation to address ongoing needs.  The report concludes that there are important drawbacks for the U.S., should it rely solely on international laboratories to meet large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs in the long term. 


The proposed NBAF in Manhattan, Kan., would be the world's fourth Biosafety Level 4 laboratory capable of large animal research and would replace the aging Plum Island facility.  NBAF would study highly contagious foreign animal diseases -- including foot-and-mouth disease, which affects cattle, pigs, deer, and other cloven-hoofed animals -- as well as emerging and new diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people.  However, given the estimated cost of $1.14 billion to construct NBAF at the proposed site and the country's current fiscal challenges, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requested that the National Research Council analyze whether three options could meet the nation's laboratory infrastructure needs.


The three options as stipulated by DHS were: constructing NBAF as designed, constructing a "scaled-back" version of NBAF, and maintaining current capabilities at Plum Island Animal Disease Center.  Because the Plum Island facilities do not have large animal Biosafety Level 4 capacity -- containment of agents that are potentially life-threatening to humans and pose a high risk of transmission -- this type of work would have to be conducted at foreign laboratories.  


The scope of the committee's analysis was limited to examining the three options and explicitly excluded an assessment of specific site locations for the proposed laboratory facility; therefore, the report neither compares relative risks of the three options nor determines where foot-and-mouth disease research can be safely conducted.  In addition, the committee concluded that to most appropriately fill laboratory needs, all factors of concern will need to be considered in a more comprehensive assessment.


The report concludes that DHS' first option -- NBAF as currently designed -- includes all components of the ideal laboratory infrastructure in a single location and has been designed to meet the current and anticipated future mission needs of DHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.  However, the proposed facility also has drawbacks, including substantial costs associated with construction, operation, and management; and not leveraging existing capacity at other containment laboratories in the U.S.


Regarding the second option, the report finds that a partnership between a central national laboratory of reduced scope and size and a distributed laboratory network can effectively protect the United States from foreign animal and zoonotic diseases, potentially realize cost savings, reduce redundancies while increasing efficiencies, and enhance the cohesiveness of a national system of biocontainment laboratories.  However, the cost implications of reducing the scope and capacity of a central facility are not known.


In its assessment of the third option, the report says that maintaining the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and leveraging foreign laboratories for large animal Biosafety Level 4 needs would avoid the costs of constructing a new replacement facility.  However, the facilities at Plum Island do not meet current standards for high biocontainment.  Given the uncertainty over priorities of a foreign laboratory and logistical difficulties in an emergency, it would not be desirable for the United States to rely on international laboratories to meet these needs in the long term. 


The report adds that because foot-and-mouth disease research remains critical for the U.S. animal health system, it will be essential to maintain the Plum Island facility until an alternative facility is authorized, constructed, commissioned, and approved for work with the virus.


Regardless of the options considered for a central facility, the report recommends that DHS and USDA develop and implement an integrated national strategy that utilizes a distributed system for addressing foreign animal and zoonotic disease threats.  The capital costs associated with maintaining or constructing modern laboratory facilities should be balanced with the need to support research priorities.  Therefore, it is critical for DHS and USDA to develop solutions that strike a balance between facilities costs and the research and development effort needed to protect American agriculture and public health. 


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are independent, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under an 1863 congressional charter.  Panel members, who serve pro bono as volunteers, are chosen by the Academies for each study based on their expertise and experience and must satisfy the Academies' conflict-of-interest standards.  The resulting consensus reports undergo external peer review before completion.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Lorin Hancock, Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail


Pre-publication copies of Meeting Critical Laboratory Needs for Animal Agriculture: Examination of Three Options are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources


Board on Life Sciences


Committee on Analysis of the Requirements and Alternatives for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory Capabilities


Terry F. McElwain* (chair)

Professor of Pathology and Infectious Disease;

Executive Director

Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory; and

Associate Director

Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health;

College of Veterinary Medicine

Washington State University



Nancy D. Connell

Professor of Infectious Disease

Department of Medicine

University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey



David A. Hennessy


Department of Economics

Center for Agricultural and Rural Development

Iowa State University



Lonnie J. King*


College of Veterinary Medicine

Ohio State University



James W. LeDuc

Professor of Microbiology and Immunology;

Robert E. Shope, M.D. and John S. Dunn Distinguished Chair in Global Health; and

Director, Galveston National Laboratory

University of Texas Medical Branch



N.J. Maclachlan

Distinguished Professor

Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology

School of Veterinary Medicine

University of California

Davis; and

Extraordinary Professor

Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases

University of Pretoria

South Africa


Bret D. Marsh

Indiana State Veterinarian

Indiana State Board of Animal Health



Mo Salman

Professor of Veterinary Epidemiology

Animal Population Health Institute

College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Colorado State University

Fort Colllins


Alfonso Torres

Professor and Associate Dean for Public Policy

College of Veterinary Medicine

Cornell University

Ithaca, N.Y.


Christopher A. Wolf


Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics

Michigan State University

East Lansing




Camilla Yandoc Ables

Study Director


*  Member, Institute of Medicine