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Request to Reconsider Decision Over US Lab

26 June 2009

US - In an eleventh hour maneuver by the Bush Administration, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security decided on Jan. 12, 2009, to uproot the Plum Island research facility, presently located on an island off the coast of New York, to Manhattan, Kan., the heart of the U.S. Beef Belt.

Homeland Security had solicited public comments on its proposal to relocate its foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) research to Kansas, which has the third largest cattle population in the United States. The Kansas City Star reported the Department made its last-minute decision even before the public comment period had closed.

“This clearly reveals Homeland Security’s decision was motivated purely by political considerations and is void of any concern for the health and safety of U.S. livestock,” said R-CALF USA President/Region VI Director Max Thornsberry, a Missouri veterinarian who also chairs the group’s animal health committee. “It is particularly unconscionable because in 2008 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the Department lacks evidence to conclude that FMD research can be done safely on the U.S. mainland.

“While the Homeland Security decision has been made, it has not yet been implemented, and we have been working to encourage the U.S. Senate to take steps to reverse this dangerous decision before the health of our cattle is put at risk,” he continued. “Last month, R-CALF sent letters to several senators who serve on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (Senate Committee), including Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and asked them to take steps to reverse the Department’s decision to move the Plum Island facility to Kansas.”

Last week, the Senate Committee considered President Obama’s nomination of physician Tara O’Toole, who also holds a master’s degree in public health, as the Department’s Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate. During the nomination proceeding, Tester questioned Dr. O’Toole regarding the Department’s decision to relocate FMD research to the heart of the United States’ cattle population and urged her to direct Homeland Security to reconsider that decision. The Senator pointed out that accidental releases of FMD from research facilities have occurred in the past, including a recent accidental release in the United Kingdom in 2007.

“We are thankful Senator Tester has taken this important step to reverse this indefensible political decision and we are hopeful his actions will cause the new Obama administration to act appropriately without the need for congressional action,” Thornsberry concluded. “The risk to our industry is too great to let this issue pass, and if the new administration won’t address it, we will seek congressional legislation to protect the health of our cattle herd from this FMD threat.”


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