NEWS SCAN: DHS clears planned BSL-4 lab, Twitter food safety alerts

Mar 2, 2012

DHS risk assessment OK's Kansas site for BSL-4 lab
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today released an updated risk assessment for a proposed National Bio and Agro Defense Facility to be built in Manhattan, Kan. The new risk assessment was prompted by a Nov 2010 report from the National Research Council (NRC) that said the earlier risk assessment was incomplete and should be updated and expanded. The site was selected as a biosafety level (BSL)-4 lab, designed to work with the most dangerous pathogens, that would replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center, located off of Long Island, N.Y. The NRC report raised concerns that the larger scale of the lab and its work on larger animals posed new risks that weren't included in the DHS's initial risk assessment. Construction was originally scheduled to begin in 2011, but Congress has withheld funding based on pending risk assessment. In a DHS press release today, Tara O'Toole, MD, MPH, undersecretary for science and technology, said the United States is on the frontline of livestock animal research as a means of defending against diseases that could threaten public health. "To address Congressional requirements, this detailed, updated risk assessment reaffirms that we can build a safe and secure facility to meet this important mission." The DHS said the updated risk assessment takes into account NAS recommendations and recent design plans for the facility. It said the new assessment satisfies Congressional demands and that the design goes beyond industry risk-reduction standards, and it added that the NAS will provide an independent assessment of the latest report. A Feb 14 ScienceInsider story said the BSL-4 lab had been left out of the 2013 federal budget, but funds may be available in 2014.
Mar 2 DHS press release
Nov 15, 2010, CIDRAP News story
Feb 14 ScienceInsider story

FSIS launches state-specific food safety tweets
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) yesterday launched a state-specific Twitter plan to alert consumers in individual states to food safety threats affecting meat, poultry, and processed egg products. The alerts will also include information on how to protect food supplies during and after severe weather events. So far the FSIS has established Twitter streams for residents of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington, the agency said in a press release. Over the next week it will unveil the streams for the remaining states and territories. Elizabeth Hagen, the USDA's undersecretary for food safety, said in the release that the alerts provide FSIS with another way to relay information that could help prevent foodborne illnesses. "The immediacy of information-sharing through social media is unparalleled, and we believe these timely, targeted updates will better protect public health," she said.
Mar 1 FSIS press release

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