The Bush Administration is coming under fire for its plan to move government research into foot and mouth disease onto the continental United States near herds of livestock after a simulated outbreak of the disease led to food riots, reports the Associated Press.
Five locations have been scouted by the Department of Homeland Security: Manhattan, Kansas; Athens, Georgia; Butner, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; and Flora, Mississippi. The location for the new research facility will be chosen by the end of this year, with the facility completed by 2014. Finalists for the lab say it will bring employment opportunities to their areas.
Critics worry that if the disease was accidentally released it could devastate the U.S. livestock industry. A government report released last year, the article says, asked if a release would harm local livestock. The report never answered the question directly.
A government exercise approximately six years ago, however, painted a dire image of what ravages the country could expect if the disease spread among livestock.
According to the AP:
A simulated outbreak of the disease in 2002 — part of an earlier U.S. government exercise called "Crimson Sky" — ended with fictional riots in the streets after the simulation's National Guardsmen were ordered to kill tens of millions of farm animals, so many that troops ran out of bullets. In the exercise, the government said it would have been forced to dig a ditch in Kansas 25 miles long to bury carcasses. In the simulation, protests broke out in some cities amid food shortages.
The old research facility was located on Plum Island off the coast of Long Island, New York, and was only accessible by ferry and helicopter.
On Friday, the Bush Administration acknowledged that researchers at the island had multiple accidents with foot and mouth disease which sparked new safety procedures. Congressional Democrats are pushing the administration to release internal documents they believe highlight the risks of moving the research from isolated Plum Island to the mainland.
It isn't out of the question that a new facility will be built on Plum Island, the AP says, but it looks more and more unlikely after the Bush Administration spent a considerable amount of money scouting mainland locations as well as the financial costs of conducting research from a location only accessible by ferry and helicopter.