February 26, 2006

Toronto scientists call for bioterrorism watchdog

By Jennifer Kwan

TORONTO (Reuters) - A group of Canadian academics worry
that post-9/11 fears of bioterrorism will undermine legitimate
scientific work and they want to set up a global advisory group
that will act as a watchdog to prevent science being misused to
produce biological weapons.

"Bioterrorists require darkness to succeed," said Peter
Singer, director of the Joint Center for Bioethics at the
University of Toronto, which published a report calling for
global network of experts to help spot any misuses of science
for biological warfare.

"In effect, we're calling for an IAEA of biotechnology," he
added, referring to the International Atomic Energy Authority,
the global nuclear watchdog. "Not with a team of IAEA-type
inspectors, though, but an expanding global network of

The rationale behind the report, entitled "DNA for Peace:
Reconciling Biodevelopment and Biosecurity," is fear that there
will be a crackdown on genuine scientific research in the name
of "biosecurity" -- an attempt to prevent biological warfare or
deliberately created epidemics.

"The question is how do you create a system where people
are talking in such a way that you can enhance the positive use
of biotechnology and protect against the misuse of them in such
areas as bioterrorism," said Elizabeth Dowdeswell, another
co-author of the report and the former head of the UN
Environment Program.

The scientists want the Group of Eight industrialized
nations to help create the new watchdog, and they want
investment in "positive applications" of biological sciences in
developing countries.

That would include efforts to cure or prevent disease, and
to alleviate poverty, they say.

But Eike-Henner Kluge, an expert on bioethics and a
professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia,
said a surveillance network was "pragmatically unrealistic,"
and he questioned who would monitor and pay for the proposed

"How do you balance a possible negative threat on the one
hand with a possible good on the other?" said Kluge. "This is
the two-edged sword that accompanies any research."