Biosecurity Bills Before Congress

Several biosecurity related bills are being considered by Congress. Photo credit Harry Keely.
With the lame-duck congressional session drawing to a close there is not much time for action on the biosecurity related bills before Congress.  So what does this mean for biosecurity and biosecurity related legislation?  Congress is considering several bills related to biosecurity, but little progress is expected during the remainder of the lame-duck session.

First, S.510, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, passed the Senate last week on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 73-25.  A similar version of the bill, which aims to update the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety policies for the first time in over sixty years, passed the House last year.

At a news conference in 2004, outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson famously said, “I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not, you know, attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do. And we are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that.”  This bill would increase food safety and strengthen biosecurity by increasing the FDA’s power to enforce mandatory recalls of contaminated food and the number of inspections of food processors.

However, a hurdle to final passage arose last week when lawmakers realized that a provision in the Senate bill imposes fees for a food certification program.  The problem is these fees could be seen as taxes, and the Constitution requires that any bill imposing new taxes originate in the House.  Since the House had planned to simply pass the Senate version, lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution, and lobbyists may be scrambling for one final chance to influence the legislation before the end of the lame-duck session.

Several other bills related to biosecurity are also languishing before Congress.  Perhaps furthest along in the legislative process is the Weapons of Mass Destruction Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010.  This bill aims to address shortcomings in US policy such as “failure to prepare effectively for a biological attack, failure to recruit and train a new generation of national security experts and failure to reform congressional oversight on intelligence and national security,” as pointed out by the report card prepared by the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.  The Senate version, S. 1649, was reported by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in November of 2009 and awaits a vote by the full Senate.  Whereas, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently granted its counterpart in the House, H.R. 5498, an extension for further consideration.

Other biosecurity related bills before Congress include The International Biosecurity Act of 2010 (HR 6297), The Biosecurity and Vaccine Development Improvement Act of 2010, S.3140, and the Select Agent Program and Biosafety Improvement Act of 2009 (S.485).  Each of these bills has not yet made it out of Committee.

Hopefully when the lame-duck session is over and the new Congress is sworn in, work will continue on these important issues.

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