January 18, 2023
Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Iowa, US, gets fresh boost of funds
Five years after US lawmakers denied much of the $100 million that Iowa State University (ISU) sought for a new Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory — which underpins US state Iowa's US$32.5 billion animal agriculture industry and aids in animal health emergencies, like the bird flu — Governor Kim Reynolds committed another US$40 million on January 17 to the new lab.
The money for the project — which campus administrators broke into two phases after the legislature in 2018 approved only US$63.5 million of the request — will come from Iowa's cut of the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which Reynolds opposed in 2021.
In addition to the US$40 million in federal pandemic aid, Reynolds said her proposed 2024 state budget includes pulling another US$20 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, which would bring the state's total support for the second phase to US$60 million.
ISU had asked lawmakers to appropriate US$62.5 million toward the US$66.5 million second phase, with the university and donors contributing the balance. Combined with the first phase's US$75 million cost, which included the state's US$63.5 million contribution, both phases combine for a US$141.5 million total.
ISU's original vision was a US$124 million, 150,000-square-foot stand-alone lab, made possible by US$100 million in state support.
Should lawmakers approve the governor's budget proposal, the state's total contribution to the full project will reach US$123.5 million — or US$83.5 million, excluding the US$40 million ARPA contribution announced.
"The Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is absolutely critical to support and protect our state and country's agriculture industry and food supply," Reynolds said in a statement. "This investment will significantly expand the VDL's capacity to support Iowa's US$32.5 billion animal agriculture industry and will keep this nationally-recognised lab on the forefront of cutting-edge technology."
Without the upgrades, the aging state lab that generates tens of million in revenue annually could have lost accreditation.
"The space and structural limitations of this aging facility combined with the rapid growth of the laboratory will, in the opinion of this site team, limit the laboratory's ability to adequately respond to a large scale foreign animal disease outbreak," the American Association of Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Diagnosticians reported in 2017, when it earned reaccreditation.
Then-interim dean of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine Pat Halbur in 2018 told lawmakers he was "very confident we won't get accredited again" without the new lab. "We were very fortunate to make it through this time," Halbur said. "We're doing what we can to hold this together."
ISU's US$62.5 million appropriations ask for the state's phase II contributions spread the money over four years. Reynolds' budget splits her proposed US$20 million in state support in half — with US$10 million in 2024 and US$10 million in 2025.
"We are deeply grateful to Governor Reynolds for allocating these critical resources to construct phase 2 of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory," ISU president Wendy Wintersteen said in a statement. "This funding will help ensure the VDL can continue to provide cutting-edge services and support to Iowa's livestock and poultry producers."
The ISU-based lab is accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians and provides diagnostic services for animal species — including necropsy, bacteriology, serology, histopathology, virology, parasitology, molecular diagnostics and toxicology. ISU in 2018 reported the lab in a typical year generates nearly US$32 million in revenue for the state — spiking to more than US$100 million during animal health emergencies, like bird flu.
Its faculty and staff have swelled from 11 faculty members and 20 staff in 1976 to about 25 faculty and 140 staff today — working to process more than 115,000 diagnostic case submissions and more than 1.5 million diagnostic assays annually for livestock and poultry producers and pet owners and for wildlife.
"Over the past 44 years, the limited footprint of the VDL has not kept pace with the growth in caseload and diagnostic medicine teaching needs," according to Board of Regents documents in September spelling out ISU's request.
"New areas of disease and expertise have emerged, the breadth of diagnostic services provided to the livestock and poultry industries, wildlife, and pets has expanded substantially, opportunities to assist with providing testing to support public health (for example, COVID-19 testing) have evolved, and staffing has grown to meet client expectations associated with accessible, timely, accurate, valid and consistent test results."
Iowa State has accommodated that growth "in an ad hoc manner."
"There is a co-mingling of public and private, clean and dirty, noisy and quiet, public and secure functions," according to board documents. "Biosafety and biocontainment are compromised due to poor control of airflow, poor layout and non-optimal workflow patterns."
The second phase of the new lab project will move all programmes under one roof, including laboratory testing and research space.
"The Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is enormously important to Iowa's nation-leading livestock industry and provides immeasurable expertise on worldwide animal health and food safety issues," Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said in a statement. "Our close partnership with the Veterinary Diagnostic Lab has been essential in implementing our response to the highly pathogenic bird flu outbreak and we rely on their team's recommendations as we enhance our preparedness for other foreign animal disease threats."
- The Gazette