Brussels, 26 Oct 2004
It has never been easier to develop biological weapons, warns the British Medical Association (BMA) in a new report.
The report, 'Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity II', calls on governments around the globe to crack down on the development of chemical and genetic weapons, claiming that failure to do so will result in the development of potentially devastating technologies.
'This report does not make comfortable reading but it is essential that governments take action on this issue now. If we wait too long it will be virtually impossible to defend ourselves', said Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the BMA Head of science and ethics.
It is simply too easy to produce biological weapons she added. 'All you have to do is look on the Internet.'
The 'window of opportunity' to take action is shrinking fast, states the report warning that it is much more difficult to control biological weapons than nuclear ones in the long term.
Biological weapons, through genetic engineering, could produce new versions of old viruses such as polio, smallpox or the Spanish flu. Genetically-engineered anthrax, crop control viruses and bio-regulators (agents that attack individuals' immune and nervous systems) are also among those biological weapons that could be developed to cause irreparable damage.
'The problem is that the same technology being used to develop new vaccines and find cures for Alzheimer's and other debilitating diseases could also be used for malign purposes. That is why it is essential that an ethical code be developed for scientists. Questions need to be asked about where research could lead, where the results will be published and who has access to the data,' explained the author of the study, Professor Malcolm Dando from Bradford University.
Scientists should be aware of how their work might impact on legal and ethical norms that prohibit the development and use of biological weapons, states the report. If there is a danger that their results could be used in the development of prohibited weapons, they should discuss this with their funders, the report goes on to recommend.
To prevent the situation from escalating, it is recommended that countries strengthen the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) when it comes up for review in 2006, and any agreement should be legally-binding.