One of the biology blogs I like, MicrobiologyBytes, is posting about FMD and the current outbreak. (Strangely, a rather tenacious Asian shrimp farmer has monopolized the comments. Weird.)
A few months ago in one of my endless progression of WMD terrorism courses, I was tasked with writing a (needlessly long) paper detailing every single step of how I would carry out my ideal CBRN terrorist attack. For a long list of reasons, I chose FMD.
UPDATE: Commenter Jonathan, who has spoken out
rather testily activist-ishly rudely on MicrobiologyBytes, clearly believes keeping livestock alive at all costs trumps economic considerations of dealing with FMD and maintaining the highest export status. I was about to don my tinfoil hat when I first noticed his post about the Pirbright site (where the UK’s Institute of Animal Health and the company Merial Animal Health perform FMDV research) being the likely source of this outbreak, but my skepticism appears to have been premature. In the just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you category, it seems Jonathan may be proved right.
If this FMD outbreak originated from a laboratory, how will that affect the discussion in the U.S. about funding more BSL-3/4 labs, and moving the U.S.’s FMDV research lab on Plum Island to a new mainland site? (Answer: It can affect the discussion any old way, but it won’t affect the outcome—that train has already left the station!)
A selection of quotes about the issue here.
UPDATE 2: Initial report on potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site 2007 indicates a strong probability the site was the source of the virus. How? Transmission via air was judged very unlikely, by water a possibility, and by human movement a “real possibility.”
UPDATE 3: Possibly due to this article, there’s a growing buzz about the FMD outbreak being bioterrorism. However, the initial report (above link) only mentioned the possibility of human movement, not whether that would have had to be accidental or intentional. If animals were in fact intentionally infected, there’s a small pool of suspects to question. So unlike in the Amerithrax case, I think they’ll be able to get to the bottom of this in short order. I’m not jumping to conclusions about bioterrorism on this, though. There is just so much room for plain old human error.
UPDATE 4: Sunshine Project‘s Ed Hammond notes in New Scientist today that lab accidents are commonplace and predicts there could be a rethinking of the new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility. As I mentioned above, I’m sure the thought is crossing many minds but I don’t think this event will change the momentum. But like commenter enigmafoundry below, I expect to see candidates for NBAF jumping through hoops to prove they’ll be the most secure site evaaaaar!
Filed under: agriculture, homeland security, infectious disease, terrorism | 11 Comments »