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Senator Roberts urges preparedness, not panic with flu situation

NBAF will do critical research on new diseases

Due to the recent flu situation, Senator Roberts April 29 urged preparedness, not panic, regarding the current flu situation at a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing. Senator Roberts, a senior member of the Committee, made the following remarks:

"This is certainly an issue that deserves our attention. This Committee has done much to help better prepare us for a response to an outbreak of this, or any other virus. One of the efforts I'm most proud of is legislation I introduced with Secretary of State Clinton when she was the Senator from New York.

"Together we introduced the Influenza Vaccine Security Act, portions of which were included in the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act signed into law in December 2006. Those provisions that were signed into law should better prepare us for any vaccine development, distribution, and tracking that might occur due to this virus.

"We've also taken important actions in this Committee through the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 and through general oversight to ensure that the agencies involved are better prepared. We are clearly prepared, but I want to caution that while this is serious, we should not be overreacting. Millions of Americans get the regular flu every year, that can result in tragedy. This new virus is real and it must be treated seriously.

"However, I have to say that I do not think the 24 hour news cycle is doing it justice and is unnecessarily creating fear among the American public and some of our trading partners. If you watch the newscasts on this issue, you'd think a pandemic was already occurring. Bottom Line: The American people need to be aware and able to protect themselves from the H1N1 virus, but we don't need to terrify them.

"Since we're talking about the media, I want to also point out that I represent a state that is a major agriculture producer. Every time some reporter or politician calls this the "swine flu" they are doing a disservice to agriculture producers in Kansas and throughout this nation.

"Call it what it is: The H1N1 virus. Quit trying to blame it on farmers and ranchers and current production practices. These claims do not hold water. A clear example of this over-reaction is Egypt's decision to cull their entire swine herd despite any indication of this virus in their swine or human population.

"There is no evidence of the existence of this virus in the U.S. swine herd. Even the World Organization for Animal Health said there is no justification for the current label being used by misinformed press and politicians. Our swine herd and pork products are safe, and I encourage everyone here to enjoy a few strips of bacon with their breakfast. I know I will.

"Finally, the emergence of this new virus further demonstrates our need to not only be prepared to react to disease outbreaks, but to also undertake the necessary research that allows us to stay one step ahead of them.

On this front, the Department of Homeland Security announced in January that it intends to build a new National Agro and Biodefense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kan. This facility will do research on existing and emerging diseases. It is research we need to protect the American people and DHS Secretary Napolitano has said it is a top priority. I will be urging our colleagues to support funding for the construction of this facility so that we can move forward on this important research."

Senator Roberts has been outspoken on the need to address a possible pandemic vaccine situation. In 2002, he led efforts to ensure provisions protecting agriculture from an agroterrorism attack were included in the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. In 2005, Roberts joined then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-NY, in introducing legislation to help prevent recurring shortages of flu vaccines and to strengthen the nation's vaccine delivery infrastructure to better respond to a crisis.

For more information on the Swine Flu, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/.

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