Why Not on the Mainland ?
Posted by nonbafks on August 11, 2008
OAS: “We are in favor of this research, just not of a mainland location.”
While location confers no advantage in preventing a release, location can help prevent the spread of FMD virus and a resulting disease outbreak, if there is a release. An island location can help prevent the spread of FMD virus along terrestrial routes, such as by vehicles splashed with contaminated mud or other material. An examination of the empirical evidence of past FMD releases from research facilities shows that an island location can help keep a release from becoming a more general outbreak. Another benefit of an island location is that it provides a permanent geographical barrier that may not be impregnable but that can more easily allow the Office International des Epizooties (OIE) to declare the rest of the U.S. mainland disease-free from FMD if there happened to be a release on the island.36
Experts we spoke with—including a number of the expert panel members from the 2002 study—agreed that an island location provides additional protection. They agreed that all other factors being equal, FMD research can be conducted more safely on an island than in a mainland location.37
A comparison of the releases at Plum Island in 1978 and Pirbright in 2007 provides evidence that an island location can help keep a release from becoming a more general outbreak. In September 1978, FMD virus was found to have been released from containment at PIADC. The exact route of escape was never definitely ascertained, but clean animals held on the island in the animal supply area outside the laboratory compound became infected with FMD.
However, no virus was ever found off the island. In fact, when the subsequent investigation by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on the mainland of Long Island found that no spread of FMD,
36OIE is the intergovernmental organization responsible for improving animal health worldwide. The need to fight animal diseases at the global level led to the creation of the Office International des Epizooties through an international agreement signed on January 25, 1924. In May 2003, OIE became the World Organisation for Animal Health but kept its identity as OIE.
37The members of the expert panel involved in the 2002 study we talked with told us that the advantages of an island location had not been extensively considered. Rather, the discussion focused on the availability of modern facilities and technology and the fact that they can be built anywhere. One expert summarized the discussion by saying that the safety risk had been “put to rest” by the availability of modern biocontainment facilities. However, we found that the consensus that FMD work could be moved safely to the mainland was not unanimous among the panel members and that there was at least one member in dissension, a fact that was missing from the written report.
Source: Page 23, GAO-08-821T
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