Animal health lab to close because of budget cuts

Friday, May 30, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The state Agriculture Department plans to close one of its three animal health laboratories because of state budget cuts, and officials are worried about the consequences in case of an animal health emergency.

The department's lab in Cameron is to close June 15, the agency said Thursday, causing its workload to shift to remaining department labs in Jefferson City and Springfield or to the University of Missouri-Columbia's veterinary lab.

The laboratories test animal blood and tissue samples for signs of livestock diseases. The lab closing comes at a time of heightened public awareness about animal health diseases because of cases elsewhere of mad cow disease, foot-and-mouth disease and chronic wasting disease.

Last year, the labs handled testing for Missouri horses believed to have contracted the West Nile virus.

"Closing the Cameron lab will reduce our capacity to deal with an animal disease emergency," said Taylor Woods, director of the department's animal health division. "It is unfortunate that we're discontinuing this service at such a sensitive and uncertain time in our animal health industry."

Woods said veterinarians and livestock producers should expect some delays in getting their test results because of the increased demand placed on the existing labs.

The Cameron lab was not specifically targeted to be cut by legislators who recently passed a budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Rather, department officials chose to close the lab as a way to deal with general budget reductions.

The Division of Animal Health, for example, is budgeted to receive about $179,000 less in general state tax revenues than it was appropriated during the current year.

However, its $2.3 million appropriation of general tax revenues also includes a new requirement that $183,000 go to the state's meat inspection program, further reducing the amount available for such things as the animal health labs, said Dave Dillon, assistant director of the Agriculture Department.

Rental costs, salaries, equipment and expenses for the Cameron lab totaled roughly $230,000 this year -- mainly from general tax revenues and fees charged for certain laboratory services.

One reason officials chose to close the Cameron lab was because of a reduction in the hog population in northwest Missouri, Woods said. Also, the Cameron lab handled the lowest volume of tests, Dillon said.

Closing the lab "will cause an inconvenience for folks who are in that part of the state," Dillon said. But "the real scare for us is whether we will lose capacity ... with all of the things going on with West Nile virus and potentially mad cow disease and the potential for agroterrorism or bioterrorism.

"If you don't have the lab capacity, you're at the mercy of other states to have lab samples shipped," he said.

The lab closing will affect seven employees. However, two staff members will fill open positions elsewhere in the animal health division and two are planning to retire, Woods said.


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