Washington The Senate approved $32 million Tuesday for a planned foot-and-mouth disease research lab in Kansas, while ordering more study on the lab’s safety.
The money and required safety studies are part the $44.1 billion Homeland Security spending bill the Senate passed on a 79-19 vote. The bill heads next to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
The money for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility is a victory for Kansas officials and lab backers who fought the House plan to withhold money.
But before the Department of Homeland Security can spend any money to build the lab, it must study whether it can safely run the lab in Kansas. The National Academy of Sciences gets up to $2 million of the money to then evaluate the study.
Homeland Security also must create an emergency response plan for the lab and work with the Agriculture Department on a permit process for the foot-and-mouth research study.
“I believe there is no better place than in Kansas to do this research,” Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said the funding is a significant investment in the lab to be built in Manhattan, Kan. Research also will be done at the lab on other deadly diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.
Critics questioned the wisdom of providing the money if safety studies still need to be done.
In July, the Government Accountability Office criticized an earlier Department of Homeland Security’s safety study for the Kansas site, but the agency disputed the GAO report.
“I do not understand why we’re going to appropriate $30 million for a project that we need not one, but two studies, about whether this project can move forward safely,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who sponsored an amendment in the Senate bill requiring the additional study.
The Homeland Security Department has been eager to move forward with its plans for the 520,000-square-foot lab to replace the aging lab on Plum Island, N.Y. Research on foot-and-mouth disease, which is highly contagious, has been confined to the island since the disease was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929.
Tester said experts are concerned about building the lab in the “Beef Belt” — which includes his home state and its $1.5 billion livestock industry — “where an accidental release could have disastrous consequences for America’s livestock industry.”
“We should not start doing this research on the U.S. mainland and in the middle of tornado alley without taking every possible precaution,” Tester said.
Kansas lawmakers and Homeland Security officials have said the lab will be equipped with modern safety systems.
Brownback said animals and pathogens will be contained in “a metal structure, on top of a concrete structure, on top of another concrete structure.”
Michigan Democratic Reps. Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce committee, and John Dingell, have led opposition to transferring the research to the U.S. mainland.
The Senate vote came two days before Kansas and Oklahoma officials planned to hold an exercise testing their plans for stopping the movement of livestock among states should there be an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The exercise is set for Thursday, along the Kansas-Oklahoma border. Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said the timing is a coincidence because, “The exercise has been in the works for some time.”
The Homeland Security Appropriations bill is H2892.