CALL FOR A BAN ON THE GENETIC ALTERATION OF PATHOGENS FOR DESTRUCTIVE PURPOSES
 

The recent use of the US Postal Service to disseminate anthrax-contaminated mail underscores a more general threat to people worldwide brought about by the perversion of the biological sciences to cause harm through the deliberate spread of disease.* This is the moment to outlaw all destructive applications of genetic engineering. 

We call on the United States to immediately halt all projects designed to genetically modify naturally occurring organisms for military purposes. 

We call on the States Parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention to extend the Convention’s ban to cover all genetic modification of biological agents for military purposes. Since the line between offense and defense in this context is thin to non-existent, there should be no loopholes for “defense.” Genetic modification of pathogens for development of vaccines or other medical purposes should be carried out in civilian laboratories and under strict international controls. 

Finally, we call on the United States to support a Protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention to assure strict compliance with the terms of the Convention both by states and by individuals and sub-state organizations. 

Initial Signers: 

Francis A. Boyle, Professor of International Law at University of Illinois College of Law. 

Jonathan King
, PhD, Professor of Molecular Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Biology Electron Microscope Facility.

Martin Teitel
, PhD, President of the Council for Responsible Genetics.

Susan Wright
, PhD, Associate Research Scientist at the University of Michigan. 

*Several developed countries, including the United States, have initiated projects aimed at genetically engineering pathogenic and other microbes for military purposes. Military-sponsored projects include:
1) developing “superbugs” capable of digesting materials such as plastics, fuel, rubber, and asphalt; 
2) developing a strain of anthrax that overcomes the protection provided by vaccines in the name of “defense” against such genetically altered strains.

These projects are being justified under the terms of the Biological Weapons Convention as necessary for “defense.” Far from providing defense, these projects open up the possibility of more dangerous forms of biological warfare against which there is no defense. They also undermine the Convention both because the actual motives for these projects are highly ambiguous (if a country were to withdraw from the Biological Weapons Convention, their projects would have direct offensive applications) and because they will stimulate similar projects elsewhere in the world.

 
 
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