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A bill pending before the California Senate would provide $700,000 yearly for biosecurity research at Fresno State’s Jordan Agriculture Research Center, with a goal to stop viruses from creating the next pandemic.

Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, authored Senate Bill 453 to create the Biosecurity and Emerging Infectious Disease Fund that would channel state dollars as well as other state, federal, and private funds through the CSU Foundation to the Jordan Research Center.

According to the Senate Agriculture Committee bill analysis, Hurtado proposed the bill to put the Jordan Center at the forefront of biosecurity and emerging infectious disease research, with a goal to stop future pandemics in their tracks before they can be transmitted from animals to humans. The goal would be to protect the food supply, food supply workers, and the general public.

On March 18 the bill unanimously passed the Valley-friendly Senate Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, and includes Hurtado, the committee vice-chair, and Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas, whose district includes the western Valley. SB 453 is now scheduled for a hearing April 7 before the Senate Education Committee.

Hurtado’s interest in biosecurity extends to a Town Hall meeting scheduled for Monday night, “Preventing the Next Pandemic.”

Vohra: Prime Spot for Research

Fresno County’s interim health officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, testified earlier this month in support of the bill. He told reporters at the March 19 semi-weekly health briefing that the prospect of research being conducted here on the impact of zoonotic diseases on pandemics  is “exciting.”

Zoonotic diseases are those that pass from animals to humans. According to news reports Monday, a World Health Organization draft report says health researchers investigating COVID-19 are fairly certain the virus was transmitted from an animal to humans in China and was not engineered in a laboratory.

UCSF, Fresno and the Fresno County Public Health Department could collaborate with Fresno State on the zoonotic disease research, Vohra said.

“This would be a perfect place for us to ensure and protect the health of Fresno County residents and also help steward and protect the livelihood of a lot of our agricultural workers by establishing a research center at the Jordan School of Agriculture to really pinpoint and do research at the forefront of zoonotic diseases,” he said.

Some Questions Remain

But it’s not completely clear who at the Jordan center would be doing the research. Hurtado’s office, according to the bill analysis, notes the center’s current research is focusing on water use efficiency and using CO2 enrichment and advanced irrigation to improve crop yields, adding “but individuals at the centers have expressed interested in pursuing research in the field of biosecurity and pandemic preparedness.”

Asked for additional information about those individuals, Hurtado’s office referred GV Wire℠ to Fresno State.

But Fresno State spokeswoman Lisa Boyles Bell said she had no information, and referred GV Wire℠ back to Hurtado’s office.

“I checked and it is possible that the kind of research this bill addresses could be undertaken at Fresno State’s Jordan Agricultural Research Center, but currently, research of this type is not taking place,” Bell said. “I recommend that you reach out to Sen. Hurtado to get clarification about what funding from this senate bill would be used for.”

Hurtado’s communications director, Michelle Sherwood, did not identify the researchers identified in the bill analysis.

“Our office talks to a lot of people when we develop ideas for legislation. It’s part of the deliberative process to research a policy area and it’s preliminary in nature,” she said. “That said, CSU is the appropriate place to contact CSU officials.”

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