Monday, January 13, 2003

Victoria Gewin on agricultural bioterrorism in Nature:
If such an attack seems unlikely, it is worth noting that agricultural bioweapons have been used before. During the First World War, German agents infected Allied horses with the bacterium Burkholderia mallei, which causes glanders � a disease that can kill horses and can also infect humans. And Simon Whitby, a peace-studies researcher at the University of Bradford, UK, says that any country that has studied biological weapons, including the United States and Russia, will have looked at plant and animal diseases. Iraq, for example, is known to have weaponized wheat pathogens....

Agriculture is also now more open to attack, as a result of large-scale methods such as the use of factory farms and monoculture cropping systems. "There is a vulnerability. It isn't anyone's fault, it's just how agriculture has evolved," says Jim Cook, a plant pathologist at Washington State University in Pullman. And although the ease with which a pathogen could be introduced is the root of the problem, weaknesses in the systems used to detect an outbreak could exacerbate any damage....

[This morning NPR was talking about that NAS report that the USDA tried to suppress this summer.]

1/14:The FDA has some work to do too... 1/15: cf. this New Scientist article:

So who should make such decisions? The most popular suggestion is that the editors of journals act as censors. Already, the American Society for Microbiology is asking its 11 journals to "discourage any use of microbiology contrary to the welfare of humankind, including the use of microbes as biological weapons". All the society's reviewers will be asked to comment confidentially on the potential for misuse in submitted manuscripts. Editors will then heed that advice when deciding whether to publish.
1/17: Science says:
Gerald Epstein, a security expert with the Institute for Defense Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia, proposes a simple question scientists can ask themselves before submitting a paper: "Would you like [it] to be found in a cave in Afghanistan with sections highlighted in yellow?"


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