Author: Lance Miller

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.

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Ridding the World of Rinderpest

Cattle dead from rinderpest circa 1900. (Credit: Texas A&M University) Humanity’s 5,000 year struggle with the cattle disease rinderpest is over according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization.  In 1994, the FAO launched an aggressive program to eradicate this dangerous disease through vaccinations and monitoring, and the last known case was detected in 2001.  Ten years later, in 2011, FAO will officially mark the end of disease.  However, the debate over the strategy to prevent a recurrence and how best to safely store the virus for study is just beginning.

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Who is in Charge of Biodefense?

Photo credit: stock.xchng Who is in charge of carrying out our nation’s biodefense policy?  This question was raised repeatedly in Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Labor-Health and Human Services subcommittee.  The hearing focused on bioterrorism, biosecurity, and medical countermeasures in contrast to last week’s senate hearing on terrorism during which the topic was barely mentioned. The hearing was divided into two parts, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifying first about the department’s recent review of the entire medical countermeasure enterprise.

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Bioterror Absent from Committee Agenda

Secretary Napolitano and Directors Mueller and Leiter Terrorism is the “greatest security challenge of our age,” explained Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, during a hearing last Wednesday on “Confronting the Terrorist Threat to the Homeland.”  Because of this great challenge, FBI Director Robert Mueller, said in his testimony that protecting America from terrorism is the FBI’s highest priority.  And as Maine Senator Susan Collins pointed out in her opening remarks we cannot risk another “failure of imagination” like the one that led to 9-11.

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