The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense this week responded to recent events involving U.S. high-level biocontainment labs and USA Today’s investigative report into these labs.
The Panel’s co-chairs expressed grave concerns over the findings of lax safety standards and called on the federal government to strengthen the nation’s lab biosecurity.
“The state of oversight of U.S. biological research labs is extremely troubling,” said Joe Lieberman, former senator and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense. “Every day, labs across America work with dangerous biological pathogens. Yet many state governments don’t know about them, let alone have contingency plans for when these disease agents escape.”
The USA Today report found many shortcomings in the United States’ research labs — especially those handling the most dangerous pathogens. These labs lack critical oversight. Their failures and security breaches are often hidden from the public — as well as the government.
There are hundreds of labs working with deadly pathogens across the nation. Many of these have been cited by government agencies for serious failures in biosafety. And yet, insufficient funding, limited transparency, and poor coordination have left all in need of significant improvements.
The report’s findings are only the most recent indication that the United States is not taking the biological threat as seriously as it should. The release of this report comes just days after a military research lab in Utah unintentionally sent live samples of anthrax to labs across the United States and overseas.
“This report highlights a much larger weakness in biodefense policy,” said Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Secretary and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel. “It is difficult enough to determine what bio threats our enemies may be developing overseas. So we must ensure that we strengthen federal biosecurity policy to reduce the risk of bioterrorism, biological warfare, and the illness and death caused by devastating outbreaks at home and abroad.”
The Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense works to identify shortfalls and recommend changes to U.S. policy and law to strengthen national biodefense while optimizing resource investments. The panel is co-chaired by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Gov. Tom Ridge. Other members include former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, former Sen. Tom Daschle, former Rep. Jim Greenwood, and the Hon. Kenneth Wainstein.