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Bill Would Give DHS Control of Foot-and-Mouth Research

05/08/2008 -Acontroversial proposalto move research into highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease from an island off the East Coast into to the continental United States looks to have legs,according to the Associated Press.

House and Senate conferees, negotiating a major farm bill, agreed to the administration's wishes to place the Homeland Security Department (DHS) in full control of the transfer [of the research], according to two Senate sources who demanded anonymity because conferees were not ready to announce their agreements.

Under current law, the Agriculture secretary would issue a permit to move the research from a lab on isolated Plum Island, N.Y., only if he determined the move to be necessary and in the public's interest.

The conferees accepted the Senate's farm bill, which would direct the USDA secretary to approve the permit, so Homeland Security officials could move ahead with plans to build a new research facility on the mainland.

Currently, research into foot-and-mouth disease is located at Plum Island in the Long Island Sound, 100 miles northeast of New York City. The disease, which does not infect humans, could, however, devastate the livestock industry.

According to DHS plans, the five most likely locations to resettle the research effort are Athens, Georgia; Manhattan, Kansas; Butner, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; and Flora, Mississippi. All these locations move foot-and-mouth disease closer to susceptible livestock herds. The AP notes "The numbers of livestock in the counties and surrounding areas of the finalists range from 542,507 in Kansas to 132,900 in Georgia, according to an internal Homeland Security study."

To gauge the livestock industry's support of such a move, the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked 103 livestock groups whether they supported the research facility's move to the mainland. Nineteen responded with eight undecided, seven opposed, and 4 in favor.

"DHS claims to have the support of the livestock industry to move foot-and-mouth disease to the mainland, but our survey shows that some of that support may have been written in disappearing ink," said Representative John Dingell (D-MI), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

In the event of a suspected outbreak, the government has the authority to cease all exports and movement of livestock, quarantine all animals, and begin a controlled slaughter to stop the infection's spread.