NEWS SCAN: Food safety bill maneuver, food defense plans, plague in Uganda, smallpox DNA vaccine

Dec 8, 2010

House Democrats attach food safety bill to spending measure
Democrats in the US House are trying to revive stalled food safety legislation by attaching it to a catchall broad year-end spending bill that was unveiled early today, the Washington Post and other sources reported. The House passed a broad food safety bill last year, and the Senate passed its own version of the bill 73-25 last week. But House leaders announced afterward that the Senate bill was unacceptable because it includes fees that amount to taxes, which under the Constitution must originate in the House. The Hill, a Capitol Hill news organ, reported today that House Democrats are attempting to fix the problem by attaching food safety legislation to a bill designed to keep the government funded through next September. Today's reports did not say whether the latest House legislation matches the Senate version. But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said yesterday that the House would try to pass a bill close to the Senate version, even though the original House bill was stronger, reports said. Even if the House can pass a bill, its fate in the Senate is highly uncertain, given the limited time left in this Congress and the chance of a filibuster by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. Both chambers' versions of the legislation would increase the Food and Drug Administration's food safety responsibility and authority and require food producers and processors to develop contamination-prevention plans.
Dec 8 The Hill story

Share of USDA-inspected facilities with food defense plans hits 74%
A survey conducted in August showed that 74% of all food facilities inspected by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had a functional plan to prevent deliberate food contamination, the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced recently. The proportion of establishments having a plan was up from 62% in December 2009. The surveys cover meat and poultry facilities, processed-egg-product plants, and import inspection establishments. The latest survey showed that 97% of large, 82% of small, and 64% of very small facilities had food defense plans, the FSIS reported. That compared with 97%, 72%, and 49%, respectively, in December 2009. Having a functional plan means that a facility has measures to address outside, inside, and personnel security and incident response and that the plan has been tested and reviewed in the past year.
Dec 3 FSIS summary of survey results

Pneumonic plague identified in Uganda outbreak
An investigation into a disease outbreak in Uganda that has killed 38 people since November and hospitalized dozens more in the northern regions has been confirmed on initial testing as pneumonic plague, Reuters reported yesterday. Early speculation was that the illnesses were caused by Ebola or Marburg viruses, but earlier tests ruled out those possibilities, according to earlier reports. Issa Makumbi, Uganda's assistant commissioner for disease surveillance, told Reuters that pneumonic plague has been detected in five of the country's northern districts and that medical responders have been sent from the capital Kampala.
Dec 7 Reuters story

Novel smallpox DNA vaccine looks promising in monkeys
A smallpox DNA vaccine that involves a novel method of administration using electrical pulses protected monkeys from a lethal monkeypox virus challenge, according to a report today in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Scientists used gene sequences from the smallpox virus to create a vaccine with eight antigens, according to a press release from Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. The vaccine is administered intradermally with electroporation technology, which uses short, localized electrical pulses to enhance uptake and effectiveness, the company said. In the study, 10 monkeys were immunized three times at 1-month intervals and were challenged with a normally lethal dose of monkeypox virus, a close relative of smallpox, a month after the third vaccine dose. While 3 of 4 control monkeys died, all 10 vaccinated monkeys survived, and they had lower viral loads and less severe signs of illness than the control monkeys. Stanley A. Plotkin, MD, an emeritus professor at the Wistar Institute and the Universtiy of Pennsylvania, said the vaccine generated an antibody response, something that previous DNA vaccines have not always done. He said the vaccine is safer than the conventional smallpox vaccine, which uses live vaccinia virus, and could be useful in the event of a bioterrorist attack. The study was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of the US Department of Defense.
Dec 7 Inovio press release
Dec 8 JID report

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