Sensenbrenner joins the H5N1 fray

A senior U.S. lawmaker has publicly joined the debate over two controversial studies that demonstrated the process of altering the H5N1 avian influenza transmissible between mammals.

Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the vice chair of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, sent a fact-finding letter last week to John Holdren, the White House science adviser. The letter asked how the U.S. government has handled the controversy, questioning whether it should have funded the studies in the first place, Science reports.

"The [Obama] administration's response has appeared ad hoc, delayed, and inadequate," Sensenbrenner said, according to Chemical & Engineering News. "(A recent request for a second review) only adds to the confusion. An ad hoc approach is inadequate to balance the priorities of public health and the free flow of academic ideas."

Insiders in Washington have been surprised by the lack of congressional public reaction to the H5N1 controversy, especially after similar controversies in the past sparked criticism from Congress. In 2005, there was a major debate over the publication of a paper that detailed the reconstruction of the 1918 pandemic virus. In this instance, key lawmakers seemed content to receive private briefings on the issue from the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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