Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – November 20, 2015

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By: Eric Cheng, Ph.D.

Photo credit : chimpanzee via photopin

Animal Research

NIH to end all support for chimpanzee research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to retire the last colony of government-owned chimpanzees being held for biomedical research. In a memo leaked this week, NIH Director Francis Collins wrote to NIH administrators: “there is no further justification for the 50 chimpanzees to continue to be kept available for invasive biomedical research.” This would effectively end the federal agency’s chimpanzee research program.

In an interview with Nature, Collins said that, “this is the natural next step of what has been a very thoughtful five-year process of trying to come to terms with the benefits and risks of trying to perform research with these very special animals. We reached a point where in that five years the need for research has essentially shrunk to zero.”

Collins initially placed a temporary moratorium on new studies using chimpanzees in 2011 after an internal research panel questioned their use in medical research.  This decision led NIH to only use chimpanzees for studies of hepatitis and psychological behaviors. In 2013, NIH retired 310 chimpanzees based on recommendations from the US Institute of Medicine (now the US Academy of Medicine) while still maintaining a colony of 50 animals that could only be used in cases where the research meets a necessary criterion such as public-health emergencies.

The remaining chimpanzees owned by NIH will be relocated to a federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary called Chimp Haven located in Keithville, Louisiana. Chimp Haven is a facility that contains over 200-acres of forest which offers an environment that stimulates behaviors similar to those in the wild. (Jocelyn Kaiser, ScienceInsider)

Food Policy

FDA Rolls Out New Food Safety Regulation

In order to combat foodborne-related illnesses that sicken millions of Americans each year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released new regulations for both produced and imported foods. These new regulations will allow the FDA to enforce food safety by making food producers and importers accountable for making certain that their products meet US safety standards.

“This is the first time the food importers have fallen directly under FDA regulation,” agency’s deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicine Michael R. Taylor said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne illnesses each year. These new FDA rules should help produce farmers and food importers take steps to prevent problems before they occur such as the outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to Mexican cucumbers in October of this year which sickened 767 people with 4 reported deaths.

These new policies will cover requirements for growing, harvesting, and packing. They will even consist of standards for water quality, manure use, and employee health and hygiene. Taylor said he is confident that the new rules will improve food safety, but said success is contingent on full funding of President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget request. (Charissa Echavez, The Science Times)

Science and Society

Space mining bill passes in Congress

Introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy [R-CA], the bill entitled “An Act to facilitate a pro-growth environment for the developing commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment and creating more stable and predictable regulatory conditions, and for other purposes.” This bill will allow companies to legally own and sell the resources they extract from objects from space such as asteroids. The selling of these mined resources by private companies is not explicitly denied by the Outer Space Treaty which declared that “outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.“  Since these companies are regulated under US law, the law could potentially be interpreted as saying the mined celestial bodies are indeed US property.

Of course, additional language is in the bill stating that these claims are not declarations of sovereignty.

‘It is the sense of Congress that by the enactment of this Act, the United States does not thereby assert sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.’

However, not all countries will see this viewpoint in the same way. The bill also does not address how these shared resources will be allocated with other countries that may also mine the same celestial body. Although the bill is already spurring international debate, real scrutiny of this bill will not come until the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space‘s annual meeting in April 2016 in Vienna.

This bill already has been passed by the Senate and will be sent to the Oval Office where President Obama is expected to sign it into law. (Sarah Fecht, Popular Science)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

November 20, 2015 at 9:00 am

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