Foot-and-mouth disease, a viral disease that affects cows and other cloven-hoofed animals, is not something to play around with. It’s so contagious that when an outbreak occurred in Britain in 2001, the government slaughtered 6 million cows, sheep, and pigs to contain its spread.
Still, researchers need to study the virus somewhere in order to develop vaccines and treatments. At the moment the only place for that research within the United States is the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located on a small island a few miles off the tip of Long Island. But the government has declared that facility outdated and hopes to build a new $450-million facility somewhere on the mainland, kicking up a round of “not in my backyard” complaints. The lab’s prospective neighbors have reason to be nervous; a new government study says that a breach at the lab could decimate nearby herds and cost the American economy $4 billion.