Officials in South Dakota are continuing to make upgrades to an animal disease research lab in Brookings a priority, with Gov. Dennis Daugaard recently saying he hoped to earmark $5 million in state money for the project. The almost 50-year-old lab at South Dakota State University is important to the state’s livestock industry, as evidenced by the bird flu outbreak two years ago. Some things to know about the lab as the Legislature considers the governor’s request:
The Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory does daily food safety tests and diagnostics for disease in pigs, cattle and other livestock. It’s used by many farmers in the state.
It also handles major animal-borne disease outbreaks. State officials recognized the need for a remodel after the bird flu outbreak highlighted the importance of a modern and fully equipped animal testing facility in the state. The lab was sent blood and DNA samples from across the region to be tested quickly so farmers could know if their flock was infected with the bird flu virus.
Lab officials say operations have outgrown the lab’s aging building due to the gradual expansion of four of its sections and new technology that didn’t exist when the facility got its last major upgrades in 1993, including such things as molecular-based testing and DNA sequencing.
“In other states there are multiple labs, here there is one. Being a state that works with a lot of samples, it’s important to have the ability to support the demand,” said Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian.
Plans for the renovation were set in motion a year ago, when state legislators spent over $1.5 million for an architecture firm to estimate cost and design a new building. The plan settled on would cost some $58 million.
Lab officials say the lab is in dire need of a biosafety room with the highest capabilities, to protect researchers and people living nearby from some of the more dangerous pathogens they could work with. Without such biosecurity, the lab isn’t allowed to store and grow samples of bird flu or foot and mouth disease like they do with other, less infectious diseases.
LEVEL 1 LAB
The U.S. Department of Agriculture allots funding each year for animal labs in its network, and how much depends on what the labs are expected to do in the event of a major disease outbreak. The Brookings lab is classified “Level 2” because it doesn’t have an adequate biosafety room.
State veterinary officials say the prospect of an upgrade to “Level 1” — and the funding boost that could come with it — is added reason to pursue a better biosafety room and renovation.
State officials say the slow economy is the biggest obstacle right now to finding money for upgrades.
Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, has been working with the lab and several agriculture groups to build support for the project, but low agriculture commodity prices are making that difficult. South Dakota cattle groups originally pledged about $30 million but have realized that’s no longer feasible, he said.
“The industry totally understands the importance of the lab,” Tidemann said. “But how do we fairly distribute the cost across groups; what’s going to be the most feasible option?”
Jodie Anderson, executive director of South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, said every agriculture group she’s talked with about the project has agreed it’s important for the industry and would like to see the lab get a more capable biosafety space.