President Barack Obama issued the first-ever National Strategy for Biosurveillance, a comprehensive plan for coordinating human, animal and plant disease surveillance efforts. Without calling for new programs, this plan, released in July, combines strategies already in place for “gathering, integrating, interpreting and communicating” information related to biological threats, diseases and natural disasters. The aim is “to achieve early detection and warning,” taking into account the overall situational awareness of an incident to enable better decision making. A schedule for implementing this plan is expected soon. Meanwhile, several bills before Congress, if passed, would undergird the biosurveillance strategy with legislative authority and would also authorize funding for several closely allied federal programs. They include the WMD (weapons of mass destruction) Prevention and Preparedness Act (H.R. 2356), for bioterrorism defense. Another bill, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2405), includes provisions for vaccines in the event of an influenza pandemic as well as for analyzing clinical specimens during outbreaks that might involve bioterrorism. Finally, the Foodborne Illness Reduction Act (S. 1529) would bolster the authority of the US Department of Agriculture to set forth and enforce food-safety provisions. With Congress recessed, these bills have nowhere to go unless and until a lame-duck session is convened after the November elections.
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