According to a report published by The Independent on May 2, scientists are criticizing China for engaging in dangerous influenza virus research. The scientists accuse the Chinese researchers of “appalling irresponsibility” and state there is danger a new laboratory created strain of bird-flu virus mixed with human influenza may escape and create a global pandemic killing millions of people.
A former British government scientist and president of the Royal Society, Lord May of Oxford, denounced the Chinese effort. “They claim they are doing this to help develop vaccines and such like. In fact the real reason is that they are driven by blind ambition with no common sense whatsoever,” May said.
“The record of containment in labs like this is not reassuring. They are taking it upon themselves to create human-to-human transmission of very dangerous viruses. It’s appallingly irresponsible,” he added.
Lord May’s concern about the new virus, however, ignores other equally dangerous bio lab containment issues in the West.
In March of this year, the Government Accountability Office warned that federal officials have not developed adequate standards for bio lab design, operation and construction. The GAO reports follows an earlier report stating that the USDA inspector general found numerous violations of regulations in bioterror labs that were ignored for years. Prior to the USDA report, the government criticized Centers for Disease Control and Prevention labs for not securing biological agents such as anthrax.
New warnings about poor government standards were issued after a rare Venezuelan virus went missing from a biolab at the University of Texas Medical Branch located on Galveston Island, Texas. The lab was reportedly designed under strict security measures to hold the deadliest viruses in the United States, ABC News reported. The biolab was constructed despite the fact hurricanes pose a major threat to the Houston–Galveston region.
Natural disaster does not seem to be a consideration when the government builds biolabs. For instance, the Department of Homeland Security announced last year that it plans to build a high-risk bio-weapons research facility on the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan despite the fact there is an earthquake fault zone nearby. “Manhattan, Kansas, faces a number of worrisome hazards that should influence the architecture and construction of the BSL-4 laboratory. These hazards include flooding, dam failure, earthquakes, and tornadoes,” the Suburban Emergency Management Project, located in Chicago, warned in a statement.
The CDC has experienced repeated problems with safety issues. In June, 2012, it was reported that a bioterror lab operated by the agency in Atlanta experienced reoccurring problems with airflow systems installed to prevent the release of infectious agents. The area in question involved experiments with anthrax, deadly strains of influenza, the SARS coronavirus, monkeypox and other microbes used as bioweapons, according to USA Today.
The possibility of creating a deadly worldwide pandemic is usually not a consideration when government and institutions conduct such research. In late 2011, we reported on research conducted by Ron Fouchier from Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands. Scientists working under Fouchier had successfully created a deadly strain of the H5N1 avian flu virus. Publication detailing research on the virus was halted after a public outcry. In response to bad publicity over the research, the United States government, the World Health Organization and other international bodies evaluated methods for publishing the findings in periodicals and discussed how to avoid making public how-go guides on biological warfare.
As previously noted, the risk arises primarily from governments and the military-industrial complex, not terrorist organizations following how-to-guides posted on the internet. China is not alone in conducting research that has the very real capability of ending life on planet earth.
Lord May and his colleagues should criticize the “appallingly irresponsible” behavior of all governments that actively engage in producing biological agents that have the capability of eliminating life on planet earth.