Costa unveils legislation to clamp down on biolabs after Reedley incident

A new bill from Jim Costa would provide more oversight for biolabs across the nation.

Last year’s revelation of the secret Reedley biolab run by a Chinese national has spurned Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) into action. 

Tuesday, Costa announced legislation intended to fill gaps in federal law to increase the regulation of infectious agents and biolabs. 


The backstory: Chinese national Jia Bei Zhu was indicted by a federal grand jury last November on three charges related to the infectious agents and medical devices he stored at the Reedley warehouse. 

  • Court documents state that Zhu sold hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 test kits through his companies Universal Meditech Incorporated and Prestige Biotech Incorporated without receiving clearance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

The big picture: Costa unveiled the Preventing Illegal Laboratories and Protecting Public Health Act of 2024 on Tuesday. 

  • The bill would require sellers of highly infectious agents to keep a record of all sales, including the identification of the buyer, for at least five years. 
  • High-containment laboratories would be required to be regularly evaluated by the government. 
  • A Public Health and Biosecurity Team would form to be the single point of contact for state and local agencies regarding laboratory biosafety and biosecurity questions. 
  • It would also require a feasibility study on establishing a database on biolabs that is accessible to state and local officials. 

What they’re saying: Costa said he already has bipartisan support for the bill. 

  • “Over the past year of working with local, state, and federal leaders on investigating and cleaning up the illegal lab in Reedley, it became clear that changes were needed on the federal level to ensure public safety,” Costa said. “This legislation is the first step to closing the gap in the regulation of labs and will prevent bad actors from taking advantage of the public health system. It creates tracking, better review of anyone working with infectious diseases and deeper cooperation between local, state, and federal agencies.” 
  • Reedley City Manager Nicole Zieba noted that the incident in her city highlighted a gap in the nation’s biosecurity. 
  • “Any city around this country could have dozens of deadly pathogens stored next to sensitive locations and be completely unaware of it,” Zieba said. “Congressman Costa took this issue seriously from the very beginning and understood the national implications. His proposed legislation puts us on a path to closing that critical gap that will help keep every American safe from the hazards like those discovered in the Reedley lab.” 
  • Joe Prado, the Assistant Director of the Fresno County Department of Public Health, thanked Costa for proposing the bill. 
  • “The proposed legislation will fill gaps in our national biosecurity surveillance while establishing a standardized framework for tracking the movement of highly infectious materials,” Prado said. “These measures will enable authorities to identify and mitigate potential risks more effectively.”
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