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The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Summary of an International Meeting Budapest, Hungary March 30 to April 2, 2008 3 Major Themes and Next Steps CONCLUDING PLENARY DISCUSSIONS Following the presentation and discussion of the working group reports (Plenary 6), the concluding plenary session (Session 7) of the meeting allowed Forum participants to discuss overall themes that had arisen and to look forward to potential next steps. Michael Clegg, Foreign Secretary of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and chair of the Forum Oversight Committee, opened this final session with a reflection on some of the goals he hoped that the International Forum on Biosecurity would achieve. These included: To assess progress since the 1st International Forum (held in 2005); To discuss the roles and responsibilities of the international scientific community in fostering policies that promote both continuing scientific progress and greater international security; To foster communication and cooperation among the leaders from the international scientific community and among other stakeholders in the biosecurity field; To consider challenges to biosecurity from emerging disciplines and their regulation; and To provide input from the international scientific community into the preparations for the 2008 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) Meeting of Experts and other biosecurity initiatives.
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The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Summary of an International Meeting Budapest, Hungary March 30 to April 2, 2008 Dr. Clegg also spoke of several roles that the international scientific community might play, including educating scientists to foster a sense of a culture of responsibility, protecting the practice and progress of legitimate science, and providing advice to governments on technical issues. Discussion then followed among all of the Forum participants, as they reflected on the two-and-a-half day meeting. MAJOR THEMES Several themes and concerns emerged repeatedly across the working group and plenary discussions. Participants in the Forum agreed that progress in the life sciences is global in nature and thus that a dialogue on issues such as the risks that may arise from potential misuse of life sciences, and developments and strategies to minimize such risks, must also be international. However, there are challenges associated with the use of the terms “biosecurity” and “dual use,” which mean many different things to different groups. Many Forum participants emphasized that it is more effective to present ideas in more easily understood terms, and that it is important to be as specific as possible about what is meant in each particular context. Many of the presentations and discussions during the Forum also highlighted the concept that biosecurity and dual use issues in the life sciences were fundamentally about risk, specifically about assessing relative risks and developing appropriate risk management options. Furthermore, many participants agreed that achieving a balance among potential risks is critical. They felt that it is important to acknowledge and to take steps to minimize risks of the life sciences being misused for harm, to recognize the serious risks to human, veterinary, and environmental health that could result from such misuse, and also to minimize the risk of an overemphasis on security, which could stifle progress in the life sciences and therefore could reduce the many important benefits of such progress. The three working groups also highlighted the need for a global dialogue on these issues, recognizing that there will likely be differences in the priorities that different regions, nations, and segments of the scientific and policy communities may place on achieving various objectives. Therefore, developing a toolkit of multiple options for addressing topics such as education, oversight, and governance was widely recognized to be valuable, since different groups may choose to emphasize different strategies. There was also recognition by Forum participants that consensus does not yet exist within the scientific community on many of the questions considered by the Forum. As the working group on science advising noted, discussions will need to continue within the international scientific
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The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Summary of an International Meeting Budapest, Hungary March 30 to April 2, 2008 community, so that it continues to work toward and build upon areas of consensus. The group felt that providing clear and consistent advice on biosecurity issues to additional stakeholders, such as government policy makers and the general public, would be greatly strengthened if the life sciences community could speak in greater harmony. The Forum discussions included several examples of areas in which consensus within the international life sciences community does not yet exist, or in which there are distinct differences in priorities. Participants from some regions, particularly in the developing world, expressed the view that naturally occurring pathogens in the environment were a significantly greater subject of biosecurity concern than were threats that might be generated in laboratories. An important issue remains regarding how to incorporate this concern into biosecurity discussions. Many participants highlighted the need to recognize these differing priorities among different groups, and further suggested that packaging discussions of the range of biosecurity issues into whichever contexts would be most relevant and appealing for different groups, would be valuable. On the other hand, other participants reflected on the complications that arise when trying to address multiple aspects of an issue, pointing to the additional international organizations, expertise, and stakeholder groups that would be needed to discuss natural disease hazards. These participants were resistant to broadening the discussions beyond biosecurity as it relates to misuse of research and related activities. Another subject about which some participants expressed differences of opinion was where the most appropriate balance of oversight lies on the spectrum from self-governance to more formalized regulation. The participants in working group 2, which considered models of oversight, agreed that a balance will be needed between “bottom-up” and “top-down” oversight measures, and this view was widely shared by the Forum. Many Forum participants also recognized that developing an array of possible options might be desirable, and that different groups might choose to select different combinations of options. Education was a common strategy emphasized by the three working groups to help move toward greater awareness of dual use issues, and ultimately toward greater consensus about risks and risk management strategies within the scientific community. The Forum discussions included suggestions to begin educational efforts by highlighting the many benefits arising from scientific developments, to incorporate specific historical examples of previous misuse of science, and also to promote active thinking and learning about biosecurity. A number of participants suggested that States Parties to the BWC should commit to taking steps to advance education and that national and international scientific organizations should promote the need for biosecurity education as well. The
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The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Summary of an International Meeting Budapest, Hungary March 30 to April 2, 2008 engagement of multiple stakeholders in the creation of codes of conduct was seen by many workshop participants as one opportunity to further such educational objectives. Beyond the creation of codes of conduct, participants suggested that discussions of the potential risks of misuse from life sciences advances, responsible conduct of science, and the existence of the BWC should be incorporated into academic training programs, although there was recognition that this would be a difficult task. The need to communicate and collaborate was another important theme arising from the workshop discussions. It was understood by the participants that building networks, sharing information about efforts and initiatives already under way or contemplated, and sharing resources that had been developed, is of great value to the community. Discussions reflected the opinion that no single organization or group can address all aspects related to biosecurity and biosafety, and that participants could all benefit from the results and materials produced by the various groups and initiatives tackling aspects of these topics. Similarly, many workshop participants highlighted the need for evaluation of the efforts that were going forward, and particularly for more information on what had been most successful in different contexts. Participants from less developed countries in particular expressed a desire for access to shared products and materials that might help them rapidly advance the development of biosafety and biosecurity standards in more resource-limited regions. One idea that emerged from the discussion in working group 1 was to create a clearinghouse of materials and information for wide use by the community and this idea received substantial support during the plenary discussions. Throughout the Forum, many of the individual participants as well as the three working groups, highlighted the critical issue of funding. Financial support is needed to convene meetings to discuss biosecuity topics, to develop and deliver educational programs such as seminars, and to maintain networks and forums for sharing information. It is not clear where such funding will come from, and this is likely to remain a concern. GREATER COLLABORATION AMONG INTERNATIONAL SCIENTIFIC ORGANIZATIONS In parallel with the emphasis on continuing the dialogues within the scientific community on biosecurity and biosafety, was an emphasis by many Forum participants on the convening powers of various international scientific organizations. Within the nongovernmental community, the Forum participants pointed to organizations such as the International Council for Science (ICSU), the InterAcademy Panel on International
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The 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Summary of an International Meeting Budapest, Hungary March 30 to April 2, 2008 Issues (IAP), the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), and the disciplinary science unions. These groups are often seen to have legitimacy as neutral networks that can engage scientists from many countries. In addition, they can take advantage of their networks of national member bodies to help exchange opinions and disseminate information. The suggestion was raised by many participants at the Forum that it would be particularly useful if IAP and ICSU could strengthen their collaboration to continue dialogues on biosecurity issues within the scientific community. The IAP currently has a Biosecurity Working Group, and working group 1 suggested that IAP convene a task group to consider the specifics of how best to establish a clearinghouse for resources such as educational materials, and to plan additional follow-on initiatives. The IAP Biosecurity Working Group could thus form a valuable locus within IAP to interact with its partners in the scientific community, including with ICSU and the life sciences unions. On the intergovernmental level, many Forum participants felt that organizations such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization have critical roles to play, and are also in a position to help effectively bridge between communities of scientific experts and governmental agencies. The BWC provides the fundamental norm against the misuse of the life sciences, and the intersessional process has proved to be a valuable convening mechanism to address topics relevant to the scientific community. It was suggested by many participants that the UN serve as the locus for a broad international forum on biosecurity because of its ability to incorporate multiple stakeholders including the laboratory, human and veterinary health, government, and security communities. The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, had proposed convening such a forum and several Forum participants expressed the hope that this proposal might ultimately move forward. CONCLUSION AND ADJOURNMENT OF THE FORUM Dr. Clegg closed the Forum by highlighting the value of the process of discussion by the international life sciences community on topics of biosecurity and biosafety. He thanked all of the participants for their active engagement, and looked forward to continuing efforts by the community to address these issues.
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