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U.S. Biochemical Research
F or most nonscientists, the word biochemical causes our brains to shut down and skip over whatever scientific “gobbledygook” follows. Combined, however, with “good enough for government work,” a catch-phrase for sloppy bureaucracy that can be shrugged off in most areas, it becomes perilous because today’s biochemical research is perilous indeed.
A side from the real concern of clinical trials on sentient beings without their full and informed consent—be they animals, prisoners, soldiers, residents of domestic and foreign ghettos, or undergraduates—humans live longer and better today due to advances from medical research, which has given us such benefits as antibiotics, AIDS medications, and vaccines for polio, measles, and smallpox.
Because such research entails working with dangerous diseases, we have supervisory bodies to oversee and control safety. In the United States this is handled by the National Institute of Health (NIH), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One of NIH’s four stated goals is to exemplify and promote the highest level of scientific integrity, public accountability, and social responsibility in the conduct of science. The NIH issues guidelines for labs operating with federal funds, including making public their plans and operations and publishing minutes of laboratory safety committee meetings, as required by U.S. law. The NIH has the power to shut them down if they do not comply. All good.
T hree examples (of many) of what can happen without careful supervision: the anthrax attacks in October 2001, believed to have come accidentally or on purpose from a Ft. Detrick laboratory; the Meridian Biosciences Inc. scare in 2005 that sent 3,700 samples of a potentially dangerous flu to labs around the world; and a near miss by the University of Texas in April 2006 that could have released a mix of common human influenza genes with those of bird.
Is the supervision adequate? The Sunshine Project, an NGO watchdog group in Germany and the United States, is now conducting a second survey of nearly 400 U.S. institutional biosafety committees (IBC). These committees, maintained at labs conducting federally-funded biotechnology research, have been established to protect people and the environment from risks of biotechnology experiments. In the course of conducting the IBC survey, the Sunshine Project has encountered a number of biosafety problems in research involving potential biological weapons agents. These include: physical issues at high containment laboratories, risky experiments approved with dubious safety precautions and/or inadequate IBC review, and dysfunctional and otherwise non-compliant committees.
In the first study, it found 113 university, government, hospital, and corporate laboratories engaged in research that refused to disclose what they were doing and what safety measures they were taking as required by federal rules.
What might they be working on? One possibility stems from the real fear of a mutation of bird flu that could be humanly contagious, which has all and sundry busily mixing and matching common influenza strains or genetically engineered strains with the deadly H5N1 bird flu. A mistake or accident could lead to an unpredictable flu strain that would cause the very human epidemic they are supposedly trying to avoid.
Another is the questionable resurrection of the deadly 1918 influenza strain, being studied in Atlanta and at a Canadian BSL-4 in Winnipeg, but probably also in Madison, Wisconsin (Kawaoka), Seattle, Washington (Katze), Athens, Georgia (USDA flu lab), New York City (Mt. Sinai Hospital), and perhaps Washington, DC/Bethesda, Maryland (Taubenberger), and other places.
Still another is the possible synthesis of the smallpox virus. Last year, two years after Congress banned this synthesis, a federally appointed panel recommended that the law be dropped.
This is potentially dangerous stuff, in dire need of supervision. So why are the (at least) 113 labs not accountable? It’s not that some of these labs are hiding the minutes of their bio-safety meetings, but that the committees simply have never met or, when they have met, their minutes say nothing of consequence. Edward Hammond of the Sunshine Project questioned the NIH director in November asking for accountability. To date, he has had no response. This is bad.
A s with much of what we’ve been living through with Bush, we have the Reagan legacy to blame as well. Secretly disregarding the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) of 1972, the Reagan administration advanced research into germ warfare and sold disease-causing microbes, including anthrax, to Saddam Hussein, which he later used in his war against Iran.
In 1986, 14 years after signing the convention, the government gave various U.S. universities $42 million to develop infectious diseases and toxins, hoping for strains of anthrax, Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis, tularemia, shigella, botulin, and Q fever.
The U.S. has what is believed to be the world’s second largest stockpile of chemical weapons, nerve and choking agents among them, not counting run-of-the-mill crowd control chemicals such as tear gas and pepper spray. The U.S. was committed to destroying these by 2004 and one would like to believe that it did, but it has not permitted any international supervisory group to verify that they were indeed destroyed. (Russia has the most and also promised to destroy them.)
CNN assures us that the U.S. maintains it does not have a stockpile of biological weapons, although it admits pursuing “defensive” biological research. Aside from the question of when and why biological weaponry would be used for defense, Francis Boyle, the professor who drafted the 1989 congressional Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act, states the Pentagon “is now gearing up to fight and ‘win’ biological warfare” with two national strategy directives that Bush adopted in 2002 without “public knowledge and review.”
T he Bush administration, always going one worse than Reagan, took the teeth out of the international inspection system for biological laboratories in 2001 and, although the 1925 Geneva Convention banning biological agents still exists, Guantanamo Bay has shown us what heed the White House pays to the Geneva Conventions. Nevertheless, the 1972 BTWC is still valid and without exemption and the Pentagon knows it, so the lexicon writers who gave us “collateral damage” are simply declaring research “non-lethal,” thereby creating an imaginary grey area between what is permitted and what is not weapons research.
In its coverage of a controversial Boston University laboratory, the Boston Globe revealed that there were 335 labs in the United States registered with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to handle deadly biological agents such as anthrax, ebola, and smallpox, as well as 75 other labs registered with the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. More than 7,200 scientists and lab workers are cleared to work in the United States with live anthrax alone; not to mention a likely U.S. Army plan for more foreign-based labs (they already exist in Egypt, Peru, Italy, Indonesia, and Germany). A current Corps of Engineers solicitation for design services suggests this, offering $3 million contracts over the 3-year life of the contract.
Then there is the fascinating field of recombinant DNA. What scientists are doing with it, however, frightened the National Research Council’s Executive Committee enough in 2004 to strongly recommend that NIH establish a review system for these “experiments of concern.” The concerns involved experiments that would demonstrate how to:
render a vaccine ineffective (such as vaccine-resistant
- confer resistance to therapeutically useful antibiotics or antiviral agents
- enhance the virulence of a pathogen or render a non-pathogen virulent
- increase transmissibility
- alter host range of a pathogen
- evade diagnostic/detection modalities (microencapulation and/or alteration of gene sequence to avoid established molecular methods)
- weaponization of a biological agent or toxin, including environmental stabilization (such as synthesis of the smallpox virus)
In probable response to this, the government is supposedly developing an “oversight” commission through the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity. But on October 25 the NSABB working group “moved to creatively thwart its charge. Although it was formed to recommend biosecurity rules to govern the new field of synthetic biology, the working group will instead assault regulations of a wide range of biodefense and biotech risks…. The working group’s outlook is more political than technical. Its science is a veneer that disguises the maturing political muscle of a constituency of bioscientists that has become accustomed, perhaps addicted, to lavish federal biodefense funding” according to the Sunshine Project.
In sum, in defiance of international accords and ignoring congressional and sane scientific attempts at regulation, our government is experimenting with biological and chemical weapons of unbelievable danger to humankind probably in a lab near you, including creating and testing “non-lethal” hardware that can deliver the full spectrum of such weapons. This is monstrous.
Carolina Cositore has been a journalist and translator/rewriter in Havana, Cuba for over eight years.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; email@example.com; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; email@example.com; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; firstname.lastname@example.org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: email@example.com; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; email@example.com.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.