July 15, 2004


 The future of Plum Island

Posted July 1, 2004

The AVMA will host and chair a one-day meeting in Washington, D.C., to develop a draft consensus recommendation for the Foreign Animal Disease Laboratory, currently located on the 840-acre Plum Island.

The Department of Agriculture opened the Plum Island Animal Disease Center in 1954 in response to outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in Canada and Mexico. The island is about 1.5 miles northeast of Orient Point, N.Y., and 12 miles southwest of New London, Conn. It is the only facility in North America where FMD disease research can be performed using live virus.

The facility was recently transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, and a Homeland Security Presidential Directive-9 requires the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security to develop a plan to provide safe, secure, and state-of-the-art agriculture biocontainment laboratories that research and develop diagnostic capabilities for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases. Plum Island falls within directive-9, and despite major renovations in the 1960s and 1970s, the Plum Island facility is reaching the end of its useful life, according to Dr. Gerald Parker, director of the National Biodefense Analysis and Counter Measures Center. The facility is in critical need of renovation and upgrades, but officials are not in agreement; in fact, some have argued that the facility should be moved to the mainland. A 2001 report commissioned by the USDA found that it would be more cost effective to build a new facility than remodel the old facility.

In June, the Executive Board chose to fund a meeting so various entities could weigh in with their views and a consensus on the issue could be reached. The AVMA will contribute $500 toward the meeting and invite representatives from the AVMA, United States Animal Health Association, American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians, Animal Agriculture Coalition, National Institute for Animal Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, and other entities.