By: Kaitlyn Morabito, Ph.D.
US House moves to block labeling of GM foods
The debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) labeling has made it to the federal level. On July 23rd, the US House of Representatives approved H.R. 1599, the Safe and Affordable Food Labeling Act. This bill prevents states and localities from being able to require the labeling of GMOs on food products and sets up a voluntary US Department of Agriculture (USDA) program for foods to be certified as non-GMO. Additionally, it expands the ability of the FDA to regulate and prevent the sale of food based on safety data or a lack of safety data. States such as Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine already have laws related to the labeling of GMO foods. If this bill becomes law, the laws in these states will be negated. Proponents of this bill, including the food industry, Republicans and some Democrats, argue that the scientific community has reached the consensus that GMOs are not harmful and that this bill makes a uniform national policy on the labeling of food. Opponents of the bill, argue that consumers have a right to know what is in their food. The fate of this bill in the Senate and White House approval is unknown. (Puneet Kollipara, Science Insider)
Budget showdown leave US science agencies in limbo
With the fiscal year nearing a close, it is once again time for the annual panic over whether Congress will pass a 2016 budget or if the government will shutdown. Congress will be back in session beginning in early September and will have 3 weeks to hammer out a budget deal for 2016 before the 2016 fiscal year officially begins on October 1st. Experts do not expect a 2016 budget to pass by this deadline, but do anticipate that a temporary deal will prevent a government shutdown. During these negotiations, the budgets of the US science agencies hang in the balance. The Senate and House of Representatives have both passed 2016 budgets, but these bills need to be reconciled between the two chambers and approved by the White House. While funding for the government’s largest science agency, National Institutes of Health (NIH), is expected to rise by about $1 billion with either budget, other science agencies may not fair as well. The largest discrepancies in funding are among the agencies that fund climate change research and the social sciences including NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and National Science Foundation (NSF). The Republican-controlled House Budget included many stipulations on how these agencies can use their funds. A final budget may not be passed until months into the 2016 fiscal year. (Chris Cesare, Nature News)
Vaccines and Global Health
First malaria vaccine takes a key step forward
The first efficacious malaria vaccine (RTS,S) has health organizations and the manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), puzzled about how best to use it, if at all. An ideal vaccine would achieve 95% efficacy, but this malaria vaccine only showed 30% efficacy in a phase III clinical trial in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Although experts only expected 50% efficacy at the start of that trial, the vaccine only protected 39% of toddlers and 27% of infants against malaria. Although a huge achievement, the market for RTS,S is not clear and there are many other aspects that need to be considered including “cost-effectiveness, feasibility and the public-health value of the vaccine compared with other interventions” such a mosquito control. Use of vaccines and other interventions are often based on recommendations from organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and European Medicines Agency (EMA). So far, the EMA has released a “positive scientific opinion” of the vaccine in Africa for children between 6 weeks and 17 months old based on the fact that vaccine does more good than harm. The WHO has yet to release a recommendation, but is expected to do so by the end of the year. Recommendations from these health organizations do effect funding for vaccinations, but does not directly determine their use, which is decided by the countries themselves. (Leslie Roberts, Science Insider)
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