Government Tries to Squelch Alert on Milk Terror Threat
[Discover, January 2006]
By RICHARD MORGAN
The scenario is frightening: One gram of botulinum toxin released into the nation's milk supply would kill 50,000 people. That possibility was laid out in a controversial paper published in July by the National Academy of Sciences. It demonstrates the dairy industry's susceptibility to a bioterrorism attack—and presses for early detection measures. "This is not just about botulinum in milk," says Lawrence Wein, professor of management science at Stanford University's business school and coauthor of the report. "It's about moving the food industry from food safety, which they're good at, to food security, which they really haven't even addressed."
U.S. officials expressed displeasure. Stewart Simonson, an assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote to the academy to ask that the paper not be published, calling it "a road map for terrorists." After debate, the journal published the paper anyway. In an accompanying editorial, Bruce Alberts, the academy's former president, said, "We are convinced that the guidance offered in this article on how to anticipate, model, and minimize a botulinum- toxin attack can be valuable for biodefense." Barry Bloom, dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, says: "Everything that's not classified should be public. I'm not saying we should tell terrorists every damn thing, but we also need academic and scientific freedom."
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