The USDA has named the executive director of Canada’s National Centers for Animal Disease to head the new U.S. National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, KS.

Dr. Alfonso Clavijo’s appointment as NBAF’s first director is the latest indication that USDA’s long transition from conducting its most dangerous animal research on Plum Island in the waters off New York State to the Kansas State University campus is about over.

Clavijo starts his new job in just two weeks, on Oct. 13. The $1.25 billion biosafety Level 4 laboratory remains under construction by Homeland Security. Level 4 biosafety facilities carry the highest risk with requirements for biocontainment precautions to isolate dangerous biological agents.

USDA’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York has been the center of Level 4 animal disease work for the past 75 years. For the past decade, Homeland and USDA have been working on selecting a new level 4 lab location, getting it built, and preparing to abandon Plum Island.

Clavijo will take over the 574,000 square foot facility once it becomes fully operational, likely to occur in 2023. Construction is supposed to be finishing in 2021. After getting it built, Homeland Security will remain on site to commission the facility.

“Dr. Clavijo brings with him a wealth of technical knowledge in the diagnosis of transboundary, emerging and zoonotic diseases,” said Dr. Chavoda Jacobs-Young, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) administrator.

“As NBAF’s first permanent director, his extensive leadership experience will be a great asset in helping NBAF achieve its vision of being a national asset that protects U.S. agriculture and consumers through cutting -edge research, diagnostics, training and development of vaccines and other countermeasures.”

ARS and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are partners in operating NBAF.

Clavijo steps down as the director of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) National Centers for Animal Diseases where he also directed Biosafety Level (BSL) 2-4 facilities. The CFIA labs contained pathogens for the study of foreign animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth, African swine fever, classical swine fever, and avian influenza.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) named CFIA’s National Center for Foreign Animal Diseases in Winnipeg under Clavijo’s tenure as a reference center for emerging and zoonotic pathogens.

Clavijo’s leadership also earned him Canada’s 2018 President’s National Award in “Leadership in People Management.” The prestigious honor cited Clavijo’s exemplary people-management skills and his demonstration of excellence in advancing CFIA goals, values, and ethics as a human resources manager.

Clavijo has held leadership or advisory positions at CFIA laboratories, as well as Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, the Pan American Health Organization, and National University in Bogota, Colombia.

Clavijo has a doctorate in veterinary microbiology/virology from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and a doctor of veterinary medicine from National University in Bogota, Columbia.

Clavijo has published numerous scientific works and continues to serve as an adjunct professor or advisor at affiliate organizations.

When USDA decided to leave Plum Island for a new location in 2008,  it planned to sell the property to the highest bidder. Today Plum Island’s future is likely to include conservation and wildlife tourism.

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