Congress of the United States


Date of this Version



Published by Congressional Research Service, 7-5700,, RL34160


The agricultural and food infrastructure of the United States may be susceptible to terrorist attack using biological pathogens. In addition to the economic effects of such an attack, some animal pathogens could cause illness in humans. Diseases that can spread from animals to people are known as zoonotic diseases. Scientific and medical research on plant and animal diseases may lead to the discovery and development of new diagnostics and countermeasures, reducing the risk and effects of a successful terrorist attack.

To safeguard the United States against the introduction of non-native animal disease, Congress has appropriated funds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Some of this work is performed at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC), located off the coast of New York. Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2003 and transferred ownership and operation of PIADC from USDA to DHS. The USDA and DHS cooperate to conduct foreign animal disease research at PIADC, but they have identified PIADC as outdated and too limited to continue as the primary facility for this research.

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9, issued by President G.W. Bush, tasks the Secretaries of Agriculture and Homeland Security to develop a plan to provide safe, secure, and state-of-theart agriculture biocontainment laboratories for research and development of diagnostic capabilities and medical countermeasures for foreign animal and zoonotic diseases. To partially meet these obligations, DHS has requested Congress appropriate funds to construct a new facility, the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF). This facility would house highbiocontainment laboratories able to hold the pathogens currently under investigation at PIADC, as well as other pathogens of interest. The DHS has selected Manhattan, Kansas, as the NBAF site and plans to open the facility in 2015. The DHS estimates the final, total facility construction cost as $725 million, significantly exceeding earlier projections. Additional expenses, such as equipping the new facility, relocating existing personnel and programs, and preparing the PIADC facility for disposition, are expected to add $190 million.

Research with live foot and mouth disease (FMD) virus is allowed on the U.S. mainland only if explicitly permitted by the USDA Secretary. However, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-246) instructs USDA to issue such a permit to DHS for possession of FMD virus at NBAF, subject to select agent rules.

The DHS plans regarding the NBAF raise several policy issues. Concerns about safety and security, previously expressed about PIADC and other laboratories being built to study dangerous pathogens, are also being voiced about NBAF. Coordination between DHS and USDA, as well as prioritization and investment in agricultural biodefense, may be reassessed if more highcontainment laboratory space becomes available.