Group Calls Message to Congress by NCBA, AFBF, and W. Ron DeHaven, D.V.M., Unscientific, Irresponsible, and Deceptive
Billings, Mont. -- R-CALF USA today sent a strong letter to congressional members serving on the Homeland Security Appropriations Conference Committee urging them to disregard the deceptive plea jointly made by a group that includes the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), and W. Ron DeHaven, D.V.M., whom are seeking to introduce the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) virus on the U.S. mainland for research purposes.
According to a Sept. 15, 2009, news release posted by the AFBF, the group delivered a message to Congress urging full funding for the proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) that would conduct research on FMD and other dangerous livestock diseases on the U.S. mainland, in Manhattan, Kan. Currently, FMD research is conducted only on Plum Island, which is a federally owned remote island off the northern tip of Long Island, N.Y., and far removed from U.S. livestock populations.
R-CALF USA's letter to Congress calls the message by NCBA, AFBF, and W. Ron DeHaven, D.V.M., irresponsible, misleading, and deceptive because it contained "a patently unscientific, irrelevant and inapplicable comparison between the proposed NBAF and the human disease-based research facility of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)." R-CALFUSA CEO Bill Bullard stated that the group inferred that this comparison demonstrated that livestock disease-based research conducted on the mainland would be equally safe as human disease-based research.
However, R-CALFUSA states in its letter that the July 2009 report by the independent Government Accountability Office (GAO) specifically addressed the profound differences between human disease-based research and livestock disease-based research, which make livestock disease-based research inherently more risky. "[T]he GAO explained that unlike human-based disease research where researchers are isolated from viruses by a biological safety cabinet, livestock-based disease research involves a unique risk -- a risk associated with human operators having 'extensive direct contact with infected animals and, consequently, the virus, and these human operators are a potential avenue for FMD escape because they can carry the disease in their lungs or nostrils or on other body parts, even after safety precautions such as showering and expectorating are performed," the letter states.
"Importantly," the letter continues, the GAO states that "DHS (Department of Homeland Security) did not even address issues of containment for large animals infected with FMD, or hazards associated with large animals, which is the unique purpose of the NBAF and completely inapplicable and irrelevant to human-based disease research."
R-CALF USA further states that the GAO study finds: 1) DHS' conclusion that FMD work can be done as safely on the mainland as on Plum Island is not supported; 2) that Plum Island was the only site that did not provide ample opportunity for FMD and other pathogens to become established and spread upon an inadvertent release; 3) the Manhattan, Kan. site held the greatest negative impact -- estimated at $4.2 billion -- on the cattle industry should an inadvertent release occur; 4) that DHS neither modeled the spread of FMD after an infection, nor the market response to an FMD outbreak; and 5) that "Plum Island offers a unique advantage -- with its water barrier and absence of animals -- over the mainland," which makes it the site harboring the least risk associated with FMD research.
R-CALF USA's letter concludes by urging Congress to "disregard the deceptive plea from the NCBA, AFBF, and W. Ron DeHaven, D.V.M.," and to deny any appropriations to DHS for the purpose of transferring the disease research programs at Plum Island, N.Y., to the U.S. mainland -- a request consistent with a letter sent Sept. 3, 2009, by 25 farm, cattle, and consumer groups urging Congress to deny funding for the NBAF site on the mainland.
R-CALF USA's letter acknowledges that the Plum Island research facility can and should be upgraded and states that the group looks forward to "working with Congress and DHS in the future to support the upgrade of this critical facility to enhance our nation's ongoing ability to safely conduct state-of-the-art research on dangerous livestock diseases."
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R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry. R-CALFUSA represents thousands of U.S. cattle producers on trade and marketing issues. Members are located across 47 states and are primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders, and/or feedlot owners. R-CALFUSA directors and committee chairs are extremely active unpaid volunteers. R-CALFUSA has dozens of affiliate organizations and various main-street businesses are associate members. For more information, visit www.r-calfusa.com or, call 406-252-2516.