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Nearby farmers are comfortable with research lab’s safety record
By ANN HINCH
Tennessee Correspondent

SOMERSET, Ky. — As a farmer living near the proposed site for a new National Bio and Agri-Defense Facility, Mark Haney and his family raise beef cattle and grow apples and peaches on 450 acres, and run a retail farm market.

The Kentucky Farm Bureau first vice president was also recently named head of an advisory council still being formed of community and farm leaders from both states, whose purpose is to host public meetings to both disseminate information from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and to solicit comments from citizens.

“You’re talking about a half-billion-dollar facility here,” he said of local desire to host the lab. While he is comfortable all infectious agents would be contained – citing the safety records of other U.S. pathogen-research facilities – he admitted there are people who may worry.

“There are certainly a lot of pathogens that are going to be studied in this facility, that raise a lot of eyebrows when you talk about them,” Haney said.

Initially, this lab was intended to replace the decades-old Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York, managed since after World War II until recently by USDA (before DHS took over) and the center of some security-related controversy.

Dr. Michael Blackwell of the University of Tennessee said, however, that DHS has not made a final decision whether to close Plum Island, which studies pathogens only up to Bio-Safety Level-3. (The new lab will research BSL-4 pathogens, which are the highest-rated infectious agents.)

“I’m not really concerned about an agent getting out,” Blackwell explained, adding people who live near such facilities have a higher chance of getting ill “just going outside every day. (These labs) are built to the highest level of safety and security of any federal facility.” Like Haney, he said no pathogens have been accidentally released from the labs.

As for management of the new facility, Blackwell said DHS has indicated for now that it is open to “all models of management.” This means either federal employees will operate the lab or the service will be contracted out to a separate entity such as state or local government, a university or private corporation.

This farm news was published in the March 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.

3/8/2006