For more than 60 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has served our nation's human health-care needs with advanced research and scientific innovation. The result has been the control or eradication of some of the most deadly human diseases and illnesses, including smallpox, malaria and Legionnaires' disease.
The CDC has rightfully gained international recognition for the monumental results it has achieved in public health, results that have saved countless lives in the United States and abroad.
Today, there is an urgent need to take the highly successful CDC model for human disease diagnostics and research and apply it to animal disease diagnostics and research that will preserve a safe, healthy food supply and a sustainable, successful agriculture infrastructure. It also will provide for critically important protection against animal diseases and zoonotic diseases, which are those traded between humans and animals.
An effort to meet this need with a new facility is already under way. The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, will have the critical mission of diagnosing and developing vaccines and countermeasures for treating, controlling and eradicating disease threats such as foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever.
Whether introduced into our nation's food supply intentionally or naturally, these dangerous diseases would have a devastating impact on our country if we are not properly prepared. Indeed, reports such as "World at Risk," released last year by former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), and Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), have highlighted the serious threat of a terrorist attack on our country using biological weapons.
That is where the NBAF comes in.
A new NBAF will bring our animal disease research capabilities into the 21st century. The new facility will provide urgently needed advanced laboratories and a cadre of world-class scientists highly focused on an animal disease research mission designed specifically to safeguard America's dinner table.
As has happened at the CDC, the NBAF will attract some of the best and brightest scholars from across the nation and around the world. These scientists will collaborate, innovate and publish. They will develop technologies and medicines that will spin out of the laboratory and into the marketplace.
In this era of global travel and ever-changing disease threats, veterinarians and farmers alike have appropriately raised concerns about potential disease outbreaks for years. The NBAF is an essential step forward in addressing this national challenge safely and effectively.
The commitment to a new NBAF facility has been solidified by congressional funding for development and design. Reaffirmation of the NBAF research mission by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and inclusion in President Obama's budget underscore the importance of this facility.
This momentum must continue without delay if we are serious about food safety and public health in America. The result will be nothing less than another crown jewel of American science -- in essence, a CDC for animal health.
With the pressing animal disease threats we face today and the ability of some diseases to jump from animals to humans, the opening of the NBAF can't come a day too soon.
Note: W. Ron DeHaven, CEO and executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and a former administrator of USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Source: Kansas State University