Clinton Wants $340
Million For Animal Disease
Study & Plum Island
By Barbara Hagenbaugh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Responding to an increased threat to humans from bioterrorism and animal disease, President Clinton will seek $340 million to boost research on the diseases, administration officials said on Tuesday.
Some $40 million of the White House's planned request for fiscal 2001 would pay for building a more sophisticated research facility on Plum Island, New York, to study diseases in large animals that can easily infect humans and for which there are no vaccines.
The rest would be spent to upgrade the U.S. Agriculture Department's 30-year-old research facility in Ames, Iowa. Currently, some research in Ames, including studies of anthrax and madcow disease, is done in rented space in strip malls, officials said.
The proposal will appear in Clinton's budget request for fiscal 2001 that begins on Oct. 1. The extra funds for animal disease research would be spent over a seven-year period, officials said.
Clinton is expected to unveil the 2001 budget formally on Feb. 7.
Agriculture Department officials said they needed to upgrade their facilities to protect the $100 billion U.S. livestock industry as well as to maintain a safe food supply.
``We're working against time,'' Craig Reed, administrator of the USDA's Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, told congressional staffers.
USDA officials said they currently could not study a number of diseases, including the Nipah virus, which killed more than 100 people in Malaysia and devastated the country's $400 million pork industry last year. Some 1 million pigs were killed to stop the spread of the virus.
To study Nipah and other diseases that can infect humans, the USDA needs a so-called level-four lab, where scientists wear outfits resembling space suits that connect to overhead tubes with oxygen like those seen in the 1995 movie ``Outbreak.'' There are no level-four labs in the United States that can do research involving large animals.
Nipah and other diseases pose an increasing threat to U.S. producers and the food supply because of growing international trade, and concentration in U.S. agribusiness -- trends that can speed the spread of diseases, officials said.
There is also growing evidence that foreign enemies are capable of using germs to attack the U.S. food supply, according to some experts.
With most U.S. farm animals now raised in huge numbers, any disease could spread rapidly and easily. That could cause not only huge losses in human life but also severe economic losses in the U.S. farm economy.
Reed estimated an outbreak of hog cholera in Nebraska would cost $2 billion in the first month alone. Hog cholera is a highly contagious animal disease that does not infect people.
Deadly animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease and African swine fever, are studied on Plum Island, run by the USDA at a cost of $14.5 million a year. About 180 workers, including 30 scientists, take government ferries to work on the island each day.
But work on the 840-acre (340-hectare) island, a mile (1.6 km) off Long Island, has been controversial. New York and Connecticut residents have kept a wary eye on Plum Island for the 45 years it has been the site of animal testing.
Residents became even more nervous after the West Nile Virus, a disease usually found in Africa, killed seven people in the New York City area and sickened 50 others last year. The virus spread from birds to mosquitoes to humans.
The Agriculture Department has sought to calm fears by holding public hearings and tours for local government officials.


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