In the post-Sept. 11 world, concern about maintaining a safe food supply has been a top priority for many, especially in agricultural states such as Kansas that help feed the world.
That is one reason why Kansas State University, already a major center of food safety research, lobbied hard for passage of state legislation in 2002 that helped fund the $54 million Biosecurity Research Institute.
The building on the Manhattan campus is scheduled to be completed in September, and officials say it will put K-State on the map in food safety.
"This adds a lot of value to Manhattan and Kansas," said Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, a sponsor of the 2002 research facilities legislation.
When completed, the Biosecurity Research Institute will have some of the highest-quality, specialized laboratories in the region. Researchers will be able to slaughter and process meats and other foods to simulate actual processing conditions and determine if there are safer methods. That will make the institute one of only a few labs in the world with such capabilities, officials said.
The range of research possibilities are endless, officials said, including mad cow, SARS, bird flu, brucellosis, soybean rust, chronic wasting, salmonella and E. coli.
"This will be a facility that will be positioned well to participate in research and response," said Jerry Jaax, K-State associate provost for research compliance and university veterinarian.
Jaax, who has dealt with major disease outbreaks in his previous career with the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, said agriculture is a prime target for terrorists because attacks could be simple and deadly, both by putting diseases in the food chain and causing economic panic. The institute will become a key player in the war against bioterror.
But researchers won't be waiting for an attack. Work will be done on known and new diseases that get in the food supply, killing thousands of people each year and plaguing crop yields and animal health.
"This is a state-of-the-art facility focusing on the issues and diseases that are of interest to Kansas and this region," Jaax said.
K-State already is well-positioned in the region with numerous programs on food safety and more than 130 faculty scientists working on research related to the issue.
"This facility will allow us to heighten and expand our efforts," K-State President Jon Wefald said.
The institute will enable researchers to track the paths of pathogens as they would occur in the outside world.
Safety is paramount, Jaax said.
"Nothing leaves this building without being treated, decontaminated and verified to be totally innocuous before it leaves," he said.
And Wilk, the state legislator, said the institute already had attracted other kinds of research to Kansas.
"It is positioning us very strongly for these types of bioterror research grants," he said.