South Dakota’s only animal health lab seeks to renovate & expand |

South Dakota’s only animal health lab seeks to renovate & expand

by Amanda Radke for Tri-State Livestock News
A lab technician conducts a test at the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory. Proposed changes to the state's only animal health lab would allow a safer, more controlled environment to handle high risk pathogens with a Biosafety Level Three lab space.
Photo courtesy of SDSU.

When the avian influenza and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus hit the poultry and pork industries in recent years, researchers at the South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL), located in Brookings, S.D., worked to quickly respond to these contagious diseases, limit the spread of the outbreaks and secure human and animal health as swiftly and effectively as possible.

Even though it was successful in managing these outbreaks, researchers, agricultural leaders and the state’s commodity groups are exploring ways to upgrade and enhance the state’s only animal health laboratory in an effort to better serve the community in the event of a future outbreak.

“The lab was originally built nearly 50 years ago, and it hasn’t been updated since 1993,” said Daniel Scholl, interim Dean for the South Dakota State University (SDSU) College of Agricultural and Biological Science. “Since then, the volume of samples that are being sent to the laboratory has grown dramatically, and the methods for testing have changed, as well. This puts a lot of demand on laboratory space and personnel. On top of that, the building is old, and no longer has the very specific needs for environmental controls to do certain tests.”

The state’s $7.3 billion livestock industry is safeguarded by the ADRDL, and several commodity groups — South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Farm Bureau, Ag Unity Group, and South Dakota Pork Producers Council — have joined together to help lobby support for the renovation and expansion of the animal health facility.

“The need to remodel and expand the lab has been an ongoing topic of discussion for the last decade, and we will be going to the legislature this year to discuss ways to fund this project,” said Jodie Anderson, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association executive director. “We are currently in negotiations with industry groups and the governor’s office and administration to determine where the funding will come from and how much would come from the industry.”

During the 1993 expansion of the lab, funding came in part from the removal of the sales tax exemption of parasiticide drugs (wormers), and the revenue from that was directed to the ADRDL. The parasiticide tax was voted in the 1995 Legislative Session to continue indefinitely to help support veterinary student tuition grants and the continued operation of the ADRDL.

Currently, the ADRDL hosts several lab sections dedicated to the following: Serology, Bacteriology, Histopathology, Clinical Pathology, Virology, Food Safety, Molecular Diagnostics, DNA Sequencing, and Specialized Research Testing. However, without infrastructure updates to the lab, Jane Christopher-Hennings, DVM, MS, Veterinary & Biomedical Sciences Department professor head and director of the ADRDL, fears the lab won’t be able to continue to function and handle the most dangerous and infectious outbreaks, should they occur.

“Unless we renovate the current building, we will not be able to properly function in the near future,” said Christopher-Hennings. “We have a number of issues that we are dealing with now that limit our ability to handle infectious diseases and maintain biosecurity and safety for our employees.”

The new and improved laboratory is currently in the design phase and calls for a complete renovation of the existing 36,000 sq. ft. lab space and building a new 74,500 sq. ft. lab, complete with a Biosafety Level 3 lab space.

“The Biosafety Level Three Lab allows for high risk pathogens like anthrax, rabies, foot and mouth disease, etc. to be present,” she explained. “Some argue that in the event of an emergency, we could just send samples to labs in Minnesota, North Dakota or Iowa; however, in a crisis situation, we wouldn’t be a top priority in another state. It’s important to have animal health labs in locations where there are a lot of livestock, like South Dakota, so we can respond quickly in these situations.”

The ADRDL is a qualified lab in the federal government’s Food Emergency Response Network and plays a key role in offering timely diagnostic tests, development of vaccinations and protection for people and livestock in case of an outbreak.

“Global concerns over livestock infectious diseases have increased in recent years due to growth in global trade, which opens the door to disease movement between countries,” said Scholl. “If foot and mouth disease were to hit the U.S., you can imagine the impact it would have on the livestock industry. With the current state of the laboratory, we would be severely limited in the services we could provide to South Dakota and regional producers to swiftly resolve the outbreak.”

The projected cost of the project is an estimated $65-70 million. More than $2 million has already been spent on the architecture and engineering component, which was funded by ADRDL fees and the Livestock Disease Emergency (LDE) fund.

While discussions are still underway about funding, it’s likely that the financing package will include an investment from the state of South Dakota, as well as support from the agricultural industry and community donations.

“We are currently at the end of the design development phase in which we will have a more accurate estimated cost of the project,” said Scholl. “Assuming the proposal for funding is passed in the 2017 legislative session, construction could begin by the end of 2017 or early 2018. Phase one of the project, which includes the new building, would be complete by the summer of 2019, and phase two, which is the renovation of the old facility, is expected to be completed by the spring of 2020.”

“I don’t think there is a single livestock industry group who has not shown support of this project,” added Scholl. “Virtually all livestock groups are represented as members of the advisory board for the ADRDL and have been involved in conversations to address the needs of this lab.”

“We are here to serve the region’s livestock producers,” said Christopher-Hennings. “I encourage producers to talk to their legislators about the importance of this lab. The work the lab does in helping to create a rapid test, a vaccine or a solution to an outbreak is instrumental. We want South Dakota livestock producers to take precedence in the event of an outbreak, so we need the resources to stay within the state.”

For more information on the ADRDL, visit