Exclusive look at NBAF: preventing pandemics, protecting our food supply, and agricultural economy

Local News

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) — There’s one thing that everyone knows about NBAF, it is big and secure. We got to sit down with the facility’s director and very first employee hired to get an exclusive look at what’s going to happen inside the building.

“It’s a state of the art facility,” said Dr. Alfonso Clavij, director of NBAF. “It’s literally the best facility constructed with the best capacities to protect agriculture against anything.”

So, what does that really mean? First things first, NBAF stands for the National Bio And Agro-Defense Facility.

It’s a 1.25 billion dollar facility, being built by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which will replace the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, currently located in New York.

Kansas won the job in 2009 to become the new home for the U.S. Department of Agriculture research building, sitting right in our backyard next to Kansas State University. The location is really convenient to help accomplish one of NBAF’s goals.

“Developing expertise, creating the next generation of scientists that will address the challenges of tomorrow,” said Dr. Clavijo.

Challenges like COVID-19. Being prepared or preventing them in the first place. The facility will be studying pathogens that protect U.S. against transboundary, emerging, and zoonotic animal diseases.

Meaning:

  • Transboundary: diseases that can cross borders, they aren’t in the U.S. just yet, but could get here.
  • Emerging: the diseases we don’t know a lot about, they could be new or just a little bit of information is known about them.
  • Zoonotic: these diseases can transfer from animals to humans.

“The science that will happen at NBAF will help us to develop those tools that will predict the next pandemia, what will be the next virus?” Dr. Clavijo said.

“You just want to do a lot of the work that is the baseline so you can be prepared to respond in the best way possible and to develop some of the countermeasures against those things,” said the facility’s first employee and NBAF coordinator, Dr. Ken Burton.

Where COVID-19 is at right now, wouldn’t be studied at NBAF. Diseases that could become a pandemic like we are in right now, before they happen, starting in an animal will.

Not only will NBAF protect our public health, but also our food supply and agricultural economy.

“We’ve had porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which affected the swine industry,” Dr. Burton said. “We had high path avian influenza, affecting the poultry industry, but we’ve never seen empty grocery shelves. There are diseases out there that are capable, if they were introduced into the U.S., that could have that devastating effect.”

Those diseases could affect livestock, which could affect everyone because agriculture makes up 22% of the country’s gross domestic product. Something NBAF is dedicated to protecting, also dedicated to the city of Manhattan.

“We are a part of the community,” said the NBAF communications director Katie Pawlosky. We are bringing new people into the community to work here, so we want to make sure that we are present.”

The community, state, and country have poured into this billion-dollar project. The money comes from all three. $938 million comes from federal funds, $307 million from the state, and $5 million from the city of Manhattan.

“It takes waste systems that are like to no other, air filtration systems, air handling to support the laboratory work that’s being done,” Dr. Burton said. “So, all that money is invested in making sure everything is done safely and at the best level possible.”

Keeping the building secure is not necessarily to keep people out or from knowing what’s going on inside the building, but more-so to keep deadly and disastrous materials from getting out.

“Not only protects the livestock industry, but our food supply, and then public health because a lot of these diseases can be spread from animals to humans,” Dr. Burton said.

NBAF is actively engaging with the community on a regular basis providing updates or presentations to people who request them at local, state, and regional events.

Please send all questions and requests for NBAF presentations to nbaf@usda.gov.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories