USDA, DHS celebrate opening of National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility

The U.S. departments of Agriculture (USDA) and Homeland Security (DHS) celebrated the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) with a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony May 24 in Manhattan, Kansas.

The federal research facility, which offers the highest level of biocontainment laboratories and safety protocols, is replacing the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located off the coast of New York. Plum Island is a biosafety level-3 facility (BSL-3) where foreign animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, have been studied for more than 68 years.

The 48-acre NBAF campus includes more than 700,000 square feet of total building space. The main building, at 500,000 square feet, includes containment laboratories, animal holding facilities, office spaces, facility support areas and required safety systems. While the facility has opened, research has not yet started. NBAF is the nation’s only large animal BSL-4 facility built to safely handle pathogens that do not currently have treatments or countermeasures.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaks at the opening of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility during the ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 24 in Manhattan, Kansas. (Photos courtesy of Tommy Theis/Kansas State University)

“This new, innovative facility will give USDA scientists access to cutting-edge, safe and secure technology so they can continue to lead the world in animal health research, training and diagnostics to protect our food supply, agricultural economy and public health,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a USDA press release

Both the USDA and DHS have collaborated since 2006 on the requirements for the next-generation science facility. DHS led NBAF’s design and construction, and the USDA will own and operate the facility.

With more than 400 employees, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will share NBAF’s operational responsibilities. ARS will primarily focus on research to understand high-consequence and emerging animal diseases and develop countermeasures, such as vaccines and antivirals.

Several dignitaries attended the ribbon-cutting
Several dignitaries attended the ribbon-cutting, including Manhattan Mayor Mark Hatesohl, Kansas State University President Richard Linton, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, former U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, and AVMA President Lori Teller.

APHIS will focus on prevention, surveillance, diagnosis, and response to these diseases, including the expertise to manage two national animal vaccine banks and train state and federal veterinarians to recognize livestock diseases. Specifically, this program produces foreign animal disease diagnosticians (FADDs). The training allows them to be official responders to potential foreign animal disease cases and submit appropriate samples to NBAF for confirmation.

“NBAF is a historic investment for agriculture and our Nation in ensuring the health, safety, and security of the U.S. food supply,” said USDA Chief Scientist Chavonda Jacobs-Young in the release. “As the first facility of its kind in the United States, the innovative and cutting-edge solutions our scientists and partners can produce here will lead efforts to protect public health and address new and emerging diseases for many years to come.”

Manhattan, Kansas, was chosen as the NABF’s location because of the concentration of animal health companies in the area, including Hill’s Pet Nutrition and Mars Petcare, and closer in proximity to several academic institutions, including Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“NBAF’s Midwest location offers researchers and diagnosticians closer proximity to develop key partnerships with the animal health industry and several academic institutions,” said Dr. Alfonso Clavijo, director of NBAF, in the release. “NBAF will create opportunities between scientists and animal health companies to enhance and expedite the transition of new veterinary countermeasures from research to market to protect the nation’s agriculture if needed.”

A version of this story appears in the August 2023 print issue of JAVMA.