MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A $1.25 billion animal research facility in Kansas will fill a vital role in protecting the nation's food supply while also providing a boost to the state's economy, federal officials said Wednesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback were among dozens of state and federal officials who were at the NBAF site at Kansas State University to mark a milestone for the project, which will feature the nation's most secure animal disease research lab.

"NBAF addresses a serious vulnerability, that biological or agricultural threats could have a substantial effect on the food supply of this nation and have serious public health consequences," Johnson said.

The facility is located in the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor, a span from Manhattan, Kansas, to Columbia, Missouri, that has the largest concentration of animal health companies in the world, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Its progress slowed by the economic crisis, safety concerns and resistance from politicians who wanted the project in their states, NBAF will replace the aging Plum Island, New York, facility. It will conduct secure research on a variety of deadly plant and animal diseases, including foot-and-mouth disease, which was eradicated from the U.S. in 1929 and for which research on the disease has been kept off the mainland since.

The Kansas facility will be the nation's only large-animal biosafety Level 4 lab — a designation that means the facility will be able to safely handle pathogens that do not currently have treatments or countermeasures.

Initially estimated to cost $451 million when awarded in December 2008, the price tag more than doubled after the National Research Council published a report in 2010 questioning the wisdom of placing the facility in a college town in the heart of cattle country with a history of large, destructive tornadoes.

DHS officials said the increased cost was due to changes in the lab's design to mitigate the possibility of releasing deadly pathogens.

"NBAF was a big fish to hook and a bigger one to land," said Brownback, who noted the state's commitment to provide 25 percent of the facility's funding came well before the cost surpassed $1 billion. Last year, the state insisted on a $307 million cap on its investment as a condition of issuing $231 million in bonds for the project.

Supporters say roughly 1,000 construction workers will be employed during the height of construction, and once completed the NBAF will employ about 400 people.

Once envisioned to be operational by 2015, the facility now is slated to be fully functional by 2022.