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Biological Weapons Policy Act seeks crackdown on bioweapons, countries of concern

A bill introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID), the Biological Weapons Policy Act (S. 2912), seeks to quash further bioweapons development through greater scrutiny of U.S. research collaborations, greater State Department oversight and use of United Nations tools.

Specifically, the bill eyes states like China and Russia, but it opens the door for greater crackdowns on any nations deemed countries of concern. Risch seeks to prevent misuse of scientific research for the advancement of such countries’ military ambitions.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a wakeup call — it’s time to take biological threats more seriously,” Risch said. “We need stronger oversight of our collaboration on biological research with countries of concern, including China and Russia. The State Department has called out Russia for its offensive biological weapons program, and noted serious concerns with China’s compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. We must ensure that our well-intentioned cooperative efforts do not put the United States and our partners at risk.”

S. 2912 would strengthen the State Department authorities to prevent bioweapons proliferation. It would also make a Country Team Assessment mandatory before any further research could be conducted with China, Russia or other countries of concern, while outright banning use of any federal funds for gain-of-function research with these countries. Gain of function research refers to medical research that genetically alters organisms to enhance the end product’s biological functions.

As a follow-up, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) would also be required to report on any concerns linked to national security, proliferation and specific other nations when dealing with potential funding grants for life sciences research. These reports would be supplemented by oversight reports on research collaboration with China regarding pathogens, viruses, toxins, biotechnology and synthetic biology. For those nations not in compliance with Biological Weapons Conventions, the bill would also require the U.S. to use its influence and voting power at the UN to bar them from any UN agency leadership positions associated with global health.

Chris Galford

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