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Vol. 31 No. 2
March-April 2009

Helping Improve Biosafety and Biosecurity: IUPAC’s Contribution to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention

by Graham S. Pearson

For many years, IUPAC had been working with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to consider advances in science and technology relevant to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). In 2008, IUPAC participated for the first time in a Meeting of Experts of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, bringing relevant knowledge, experience, and resources while sharing a common interest in ensuring that the life sciences are used in a safe and secure manner, and solely for the benefit of humankind.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975. Each State Party to the Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain:

(1) microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes

(2) weapons, equipment, or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict

Today, it has 162 States Parties, and an additional 13 States have signed but have yet to ratify the Convention. The Convention holds review conferences at five-year intervals to evaluate its operations. At the Review Conference in 2006, the States Parties agreed to hold an annual one-week meeting of States Parties, which would be prepared for by a one-week Meeting of Experts, to “discuss, and promote common understanding and effective action on” topics under consideration. In 2008, both meetings took place in Geneva, Switzerland, with the Meeting of Experts held 18–22 August and the Meeting of States Parties held 1–5 December. The two topics to consider were:

(i) national, regional, and international measures to improve biosafety and biosecurity, including laboratory safety and security of pathogens and toxins

(ii) oversight, education, awareness raising, and adoption and/or development of codes of conduct with the aim to prevent misuse in the context of advances in bioscience and biotechnology research with the potential of use for purposes prohibited by the Convention

The purpose of these annual meetings is primarily to exchange information. Participants in the Meeting of Experts provide information that is collected by the secretariat, on behalf of the chair, and compiled in an Annex to the Report of the Meeting. The Annex consists of a list of considerations, lessons, perspectives, recommendations, conclusions, and proposals drawn from the presentations, statements, working papers, and interventions on the topics under discussion at the meeting. The chair uses this material to develop substantive statements on which consensus can be found at the December meeting.

It has become the practice at some of the Meetings of Experts for the chair to invite appropriate experts as guests. They participate alongside experts who may be part of States Parties delegations or who may represent international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health. Given the topics being considered this year, the chair, Ambassador Georgi Avramchev of the Republic of Macedonia, invited a considerable number of experts from such organizations as the American Biosafety Association, Asia-Pacific Biosafety Association, European Biosafety Association (EBSA), InterAcademy Panel on International Issues, International Biosafety Working Group, International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB), National Academy of Sciences (USA), and IUPAC.

IUPAC’s participation in the Meeting of Experts is analogous to work it performed with OPCW. Cooperation with OPCW began prior to the First Review Conference in 2003 and continued prior to the Second Review Conference in 2008. In addition, IUPAC jointly organized a workshop with OPCW in Oxford in July 2005 to address “Education, Outreach, and Codes of Conduct to Further the Norms and Obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention” (see IUPAC project 2004-048-1-020 or Technical Report published as Pure and Applied Chemistry 78(11), 2169-2192, 2006). The summary findings and observations from that workshop included recommendations on Chemistry Education and Outreach:

Steps need to be taken in chemistry education both at secondary and postsecondary levels to enhance the awareness of both the benefits that science and technology using chemicals can bring and of the potential for misuse in regard to illicit drugs, chemical and biological weapons, chemicals subject to the prior informed consent convention (PIC chemicals), persistent organic pollutants (POPs), etc.

In regard to codes of conduct, the workshop made the following recommendation:

Codes of conduct are needed for all those engaged in science and technology using chemicals to protect public health and the environment and to ensure that activities in science and technology using chemicals are, and are perceived to be, in compliance with international treaties, national laws, and regulations, such as those relating to illicit drugs, chemical and biological weapons, banned and severely restricted chemicals, PIC chemicals, POPs, etc.

IUPAC’s Contribution
The August 2008 Meeting of Experts focused on biosafety and biosecurity and oversight, education, awareness raising, and codes of conduct. The two IUPAC representatives were Alastair W.M. Hay, project chair, Educational Material for Raising CWC Awareness and the Multiple Uses of Chemicals (IUPAC project 2005-029-1-050); and Graham S. Pearson, project chair, Codes of Conduct (project 2007-022-2-020).

Hay provided a poster entitled “Multiple Uses of Chemicals and Chemical Weapons: The Role of Science Education in Raising Ethical Awareness.” He also presented the IUPAC statement, which is available at <www.iupac.org/web/ins/2007-022-2-020>. In addition, he made a presentation on the IUPAC project on Educational Material for Raising CWC Awareness.
Four particular points made in the IUPAC statement were captured in the Annex to the Report:

Codes of conduct should be to ensure that activities in the life sciences cause no harm and thus form part of a comprehensive integrated approach to ensuring compliance with international treaties, national laws, and regulations, such as those relating to life sciences, illicit drugs, chemical and biological weapons, banned and severely restricted chemicals, etc.
Statement 21/08/2008
Codes of conduct should emphasize the importance that activities are both in compliance and perceived to be in compliance with the Convention and national implementing legislation.
Statement 21/08/2008
Codes of conduct should emphasize that those engaged in the life sciences will not knowingly engage in activities prohibited by the Convention or national legislation.
Statement 21/08/2008
Education projects for the life sciences should remind those engaged in the life sciences of the choices they face, that the life sciences can have multiple effects, and that decisions about how they are used, including not to be used as biological weapons, are the responsibility of each individual engaged in the life sciences.
Statement 21/08/2008

On several occasions during the week, Pearson was able to ask questions of clarification. One of these interventions (on 22 August 2008), which related to a presentation by the InterAcademy Panel, was captured in the Annex to the Report:

There are three parallel activities which have closely similar goals yet are facing the same problems of lack of awareness and lack of education in essentially the same target audience: (i) biosafety and biosecurity and risk management to meet the obligations and goals of the BTWC; (ii) WHO’s biosafety and biosecurity programme and risk assessment; and (iii) UNEP Convention on Biological Diversity Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety programme of capacity building/risk assessment of GMOs. There would be significant benefits in all three activities working together on awareness raising and education. Although there are some differences, consideration should be given to a harmonized effort amongst these three activities to address awareness and education.

Opening session of the Meeting of States Parties on 1 December 2008

This intervention recognized the benefits of trying to coordinate the three parallel initiatives involving biosafety awareness. It is a point that applies to the ongoing IUPAC project on codes of conduct where the target is the community engaged in chemistry.

Education and Codes of Conduct
The IUPAC participation was useful because it educated States Parties about what IUPAC had done and is doing that is relevant to the ongoing efforts of the Convention. It was also useful for the IUPAC delegates themselves, who gained information on developments in codes of conduct, notably those of the UNESCO Division of Ethics of Science and Technology, and were able to meet with three members of the Task Force from the USA, Australia, and the UK. There were useful side discussions with the president of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB) and with the representative of the UNESCO Division of Ethics of Science and Technology. IUPAC’s participation was noted in press releases issued by the UN Secretariat in Geneva before and after the Meeting of Experts.

The chair of the Convention included the following language regarding education and awareness raising in the substantive statements that were considered at the December 2008 Meeting of States Parties:

Recognizing the importance of ensuring that those working in the biological sciences are aware of their obligations under the Convention and relevant national legislation and guidelines; have a clear understanding of the content, purpose, and foreseeable social, environmental, health, and security consequences of their activities; and take a more active role in addressing the threats posed by biological weapons, States Parties should develop, implement, and support education and awareness-raising programs that:

(i) involve, and are developed in collaboration with, all relevant stakeholders from both public and private institutions and associations, as well as managers and administrators of universities, research institutions and commercial companies, and individual scientists

(ii) explain the risks associated with the malign use of the biological sciences and biotechnology and the moral and ethical obligations incumbent on those using the biological sciences

In regard to codes of conduct, the language proposed included:

12. Recognizing that codes of conduct can complement national legislative and regulatory frameworks and help guide scientific research so that it is not misused for prohibited purposes, States Parties should develop strategies to encourage stakeholders—including researchers and other professionals in the life sciences; editors and publishers of life science publications and websites; and organizations, institutions, government agencies, and private companies that conduct, license, fund, facilitate, inspect, or evaluate life sciences research or education, or that are involved in the stockpile or transport of dual-use biological agents or toxins—to develop, adopt and promulgate codes of conduct that:

(i) cover ethical and moral obligations throughout the scientific life cycle, including during the proposal, funding, execution, and dissemination stages

(ii) refer to the Convention and relevant international and national legislation and regulations

At the December 2008 meeting, the States Parties agreed upon the following language:

26. States Parties recognized the importance of ensuring that those working in the biological sciences are aware of their obligations under the Convention and relevant national legislation and guidelines; have a clear understanding of the content, purpose, and foreseeable social, environmental, health, and security consequences of their activities; and are encouraged to take an active role in addressing the threats posed by the potential misuse of biological agents and toxins as weapons, including for bioterrorism. States Parties noted that formal requirements for seminars, modules, or courses, including possible mandatory components, in relevant scientific and engineering training programs and continuing professional education could assist in raising awareness and in implementing the Convention.

27. States Parties agreed on the value of education and awareness programs:

(i) explaining the risks associated with the potential misuse of the biological sciences and biotechnology
(ii) covering the moral and ethical obligations incumbent on those using the biological sciences
(iii) providing guidance on the types of activities that could be contrary to the aims of the Convention and relevant national laws and regulations and international law
(iv) being supported by accessible teaching materials, train-the-trainer programs, seminars, workshops, publications, and audio-visual materials
(v) addressing leading scientists and those with responsibility for oversight of research or for evaluation of projects or publications at a senior level, as well as future generations of scientists, with the aim of building a culture of responsibility
(vi) being integrated into existing efforts at the international, regional and national levels

In regard to codes of conduct, the following language was agreed upon:

28. Having considered codes of conduct, States Parties agreed that such codes can complement national legislative, regulatory, and oversight frameworks and help guide science so that it is not misused for prohibited purposes. States Parties recognized the need to further develop strategies to encourage national stakeholders to voluntarily develop, adopt, and promulgate codes of conduct in line with the common understandings reached by the 2005 Meeting of States Parties and taking into account discussions at the 2008 Meeting of Experts.

The UN Palais des Nations in Geneva where the BTWC meetings were held in August and December 2008.

Next Steps
The onus is always on the delegations of States Parties to take action on education, raising awareness, and codes of conduct. From past experience, it may be unduly optimistic to expect that what was so evident at the August 2008 Meeting of Experts—namely, that the life sciences community needs to be aware of the potential dangers to peace and security from biological agents and toxins—will indeed be acted upon. It will be left to international organizations, such as IUPAC and IUBMB, to act on appropriate opportunities in their interactions with global initiatives, such as the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (see Nov-Dec 2008 CI, pp. 16–17), to draw upon international developments in regard to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, and to make the member states of these treaties aware of what IUPAC can contribute.

More detailed reports on the Meeting of Experts and on the Meeting of States Parties have been published in the CBW Conventions Bulletin and are available at <www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/spru/hsp/pdfbulletin.html>.

Graham Pearson <Graham_Pearson@Compuserve.com> is a visiting professor in international security in the Department of Peace Studies in the University of Bradford, UK, where he has been engaged for over 10 years in promoting the strengthening of the international treaties totally prohibiting chemical and biological weapons. He is chair of the IUPAC project 2007-022-2-020 on recommendations for a code of conduct for chemists.


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